Majority Party Blocks Morrell Legislation to Repeal Fire Fee

Senator remains committed to fighting assessment on rural property owners
Tuesday, March 24, 2015

SACRAMENTO – Today, legislative Democrats on the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee, by a vote of 2-7, killed Senate Bill 198 by Senator Mike Morrell, R-Rancho Cucamonga, which would repeal the costly and controversial fire prevention fee, also commonly known as the fire tax.

“The fire tax was enacted at a time when the budget situation was in worse shape than today in an attempt to shore up spending in other areas of government on the backs of rural Californians,” said Morrell. “Legislative leaders should recognize that we’re now past that situation and repeal it. I’m disappointed with today’s vote, but will continue fighting the fire tax and seek relief for property owners.”

The fire prevention fee was enacted in 2011 by the Governor and legislative Democrats who claimed that the state needed additional money for fire prevention in State Responsibility Areas. Morrell said the legislature enacted the fee through a majority vote, despite the fact that voter-approved taxpayer protections require a two-thirds vote for enactment. SB 198 would repeal what Morrell argued is an unfair and likely illegal tax.

Currently, affected property owners are being charged $152.33 annually for the fee. A fourth round of billing is now underway. Morrell noted that several local districts already charge residents fees for fire service beyond what is being provided by CalFire. Property owners are effectively being taxed twice.

“All Californians benefit from having fires put out quickly, whether it’s to preserve air quality in urban areas or keep roads open in the mountains,” continued Morrell. “We should not be putting the burden on only a few to pay these costs, especially when almost all of these property owners already pay local assessments for fire services.”

During his time in the State Assembly, Morrell introduced AB 124 (2013) which would also have repealed the fire fee. It passed out of its first policy committee hearing, but was held in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

A class action lawsuit challenging the legality of the fire fee is also working its way through the courts. The ultimate goal is to overturn it, with the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association leading the effort. To learn more about its status, visit www.FireTaxProtest.org.