SACRAMENTO - Standing with rural residents and business owners across California, legislative Republicans today announced the introduction of Assembly Bill 1506 to repeal the recently-imposed fire tax.
"It's time for the Legislature to stop this uncalled-for and needless assault on rural residents," said Assemblymember Kevin Jeffries (R-Lake Elsinore), 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."
Leading the repeal effort are joint authors Assemblymember Jeffries and Assemblymember Paul Cook (R-Yucca Valley). Several other Republican legislators have co-authored their measure. Many of these Members represent the rural areas impacted most by the tax increase.
"We're going to continue this fight until the fire tax is repealed," said Assemblymember Cook. "When wildfires rage in these regions, it's in everyone's best interest to have them put out quickly. Residents in rural California shouldn't be singled out to pay for a service that benefits all Californians."Assembly Bill 1506 would reverse the Governor's and legislative Democrats' decision to raise $84 million in taxes on residents living in rural areas of the state as part of the 2011-12 budget. These communities are often in designated "State Responsibility Areas" and rely on state crews for fire prevention and protection, especially during peak wildfire seasons.
"Many rural Californians are already taxed for local fire protection districts in addition to their state taxes, so they won't see any new service at all from this tax," added Senator Doug LaMalfa (R-Richvale). "Rural residents are already required to keep their homes fire-safe, but the state government's failure to safely maintain public lands directly contributes to the size of wildfires. Taxing Californians more won't do a thing to change that."Several local districts already charge residents fees for fire service beyond what is provided by CalFire. Republicans argued that with the $150 fire tax, property owners are essentially being asked to pay twice for the same service they have always received.
"This is a double tax on many rural residents who already pay additional property taxes for fire protection," said Assemblymember Kristin Olsen (R-Modesto). "This tax was passed illegally and now many rural communities that rely on their local fire departments will see an increase in fire-protection costs while they receive a reduced level of service." Without Assembly Bill 1506, Republicans pointed out that property owners will likely be billed $300 for fire service in the coming months - $150 for fiscal year 2011-12 and $150 for fiscal year 2012-13 - but will receive no additional benefits for these increased costs. They reiterated that this scenario is unacceptable.
"Besides being unnecessary and potentially unconstitutional, the fire tax is also unfair," said Assemblymember Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber). "What's worst about this unfair fire tax is that it will not generate extra resources for firefighting efforts, but it does increase the size and overreach of government and that's why it must be repealed, and AB 1506 would do just that." Since the adoption of the tax in September 2011, its legality has come under increasing scrutiny. In 2010, voters passed Proposition 26, requiring the Legislature to approve any new fees by a two-thirds vote. The fire tax, however, was passed by a simple majority. Currently, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association is preparing to file a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality in court.
"The Governor has used flimflam to try to get around Proposition 13 and impose a fire tax," said Jon Coupal, President of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. "We will pursue every remedy to overturn this tax, which places another hardship on California homeowners who are already struggling as the economy goes up in smoke."
Assembly Bill 1506 has been referred to the Assembly Committee on Natural Resources. The hearing date is pending.