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Illegal Tax Pays for New State Employees

Katy Grimes
Calwatchdog.com news reporter

Crossposted on CalWatchdog

California lawmakers apparently didn’t get the message voters sent on Tuesday night.

Earlier today, the Sen. Budget Committee approved Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan to spend another $6.4 million collecting the State Responsibility Area fire tax, passed in 2011. Referred to by Democrats as a “rural fire fee,” the new tax imposes a hefty charge of up to $150 “on each habitable structure within the SRAs.”

But the new fire tax was passed only by a simple majority of the Legislature, despite tha mandate from Proposition 26, the 2010 ballot initiative which requires a two-thirds vote for any increase in fees or taxes. Prop 26 was passed to stop politicians from raising taxes by calling them “fees.”

Democrats claim that this “fee” is needed to finance fire prevention efforts by the California Department of Forestry.

“Why are we approving millions of dollars and 57 new paid positions for a program that will be challenged and likely overturned in court?” Sen. Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, asked. “The majority party has found so many loopholes to pass this illegal tax that I cannot imagine it will be upheld under any judicial scrutiny.”

Fortunately, AB 1506 by Assemblymen Paul Cook, R-Yucca Valley, and Kevin Jeffries, R-Lake Elsinore, was written to repeal the fire tax.

The State Responsibility Areas include more than 31 million acres of land in every county in the state except San Francisco and Sutter counties.

AB 1506 points out that the CDF fire protection budget has more than doubled in the last 15 years. “In 1996-97, the Department’s fire protection base budget was $226 million,” the bill states. The Governor’s 2012-13 Budget reports that the current budget  for fire protection is $996,332 million, and total Department of Forestry and Fire Protection budget is $1,173,857.

Language in the bill analysis stated that the latest fire protection fee/tax was passed merely to plug a state budget hole.

However, even if by some miracle AB 1506 is passed, rural home and land owners will still be taxed this year and next for the fire fee; the repeal only becomes effective in 2013.

AB 1506 passed the Assembly Natural Resources Committee 7-2, which is led by Assemblyman Wesley Chesbro, D-Humbolt, who voted in favor of the repeal. Chesbro represents California’s most Northern counties, and a great deal of rural areas.

Two Democrats didn’t agree with the repeal of the illegal tax: Assembly members Nancy Skinner from Berkeley, and Roger Dickinson from Sacramento voted “no.”

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