SACRAMENTO – Igniting another debate over the controversial fire prevention fee imposed on rural property owners, Senator Mike Morrell, R-Rancho Cucamonga, has introduced Senate Bill 198 to repeal the illegal tax altogether. Assemblyman Jay Obernolte, R-Big Bear Lake, is a principal co-author of the measure.
“While the legality of the fire tax is more than questionable, it is also fundamentally unfair,” said Morrell. “It forces a small percentage of Californians to pay a disproportionate share of fire prevention services. Additionally, approximately 98 percent of the homes in state responsibility areas are within areas already covered by local fire districts or county fire departments. As a result, many of these property owners are essentially being double-taxed without any appreciable increase in the services provided.”
The fire prevention fee was enacted in 2011 by the Governor and legislative Democrats who insisted that the state needed additional money for fire prevention in State Responsibility Areas. Opponents contend that the “fee” many mountain residents are being charged is really a “tax.” Whereas fees are intended to pay for specific services, taxes are used to fund general government operations and require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature. Because some of the revenue is being spent on the latter, it is arguably an illegal tax.
As an Assemblyman, Morrell introduced AB 124 (2013) to repeal the fire fee. It passed out of its first policy committee hearing, but was killed in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.
“The Governor and Democrat leaders claim that the state’s finances and the overall economy are strong,” continued Morrell. “If this is truly the case, they should scrap the fire fee. But unfortunately, the bills keep landing in mailboxes of residents in the mountains and high desert. I will continue to work until the tax is repealed.”
Outside of legislative efforts, 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.
SB 198 will be referred to committee and set for hearing in the spring.