Republican state lawmakers, a significant minority of the California Legislature, will try to repeal the state fire fee. Various legislators have proposed its repeal within days of its passage in July.
On Thursday, Republican legislators from both the Assembly and the Senate held a joint press conference to call attention to the levy, which they oppose and feel is illegal, and their Assembly Bill 1506 is to repeal the tax. A hearing on the bill is scheduled for March 26 in the Assembly’s Natural Resource Committee.
The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association announced its opposition and intention to file a lawsuit almost simultaneously with the fee’s enactment.
Several local assemblymen have initiated this issue. Assemblyman Kevin Jeffries, from Lake Elsinore, has strenuously objected to the fee since summer. He is the original author of AB 1506.
“It’s time for the Legislature to stop this uncalled-for and needless assault on rural residents,” said Assembly member Kevin Jeffries, a former 29-year volunteer firefighter. “The state should not be taxing these homeowners more for providing the same level of fire service they have come to expect. It’s unfair, it’s unnecessary, and it’s very likely unconstitutional.”
The 2011-12 budget included language authorizing the state to collect a firefighting fee from owners of property within the State Responsibility Areas. The Board of Forestry was authorized to establish the fee amount and promulgate regulations for its implementation.
In late August, the board approved a $90 fee, but also approved conditions, which would have lowered the fee, especially in areas such as Idyllwild. The top fee of $90 was for high fire prone areas; otherwise the fee would have been $70 annually. Most of Riverside County state-regulated areas (SRAs) are considered high fire risks.
The fee would have been reduced $45 if the property owner paid a local fire protection district fee. Another $10 reduction would be for properties that passed local inspections.
However, in October, Gov. Jerry Brown appointed four new members to the board. At its November meeting, the board approved a revised fee level of $150 per parcel, with a $25 dollar reduction for local fire district areas.
The implementation regulations were approved this winter and the Board of Equalization is expected to begin collecting the fee this summer.
The governor’s 2012-13 budget estimates the state will collect about $84 million from the fee.
One of the objections to the fee is whether it’s a fee, which the legislature can enact on a majority vote, or a tax, which requires approval of two-thirds of the legislature.
“It wrongly labels a ‘tax’ as a ‘fee’ and also double-taxes residents by combining new ‘fees’ with current local fire district assessments,” said Assemblyman Brian Jones, Republican from Santee. “This will have a disproportionate and devastating financial impact on the residents of my district in East San Diego County.”
As a result of redistricting, Jones’ new district includes the Hill.