The arrival of California’s wildfire season is a sober reminder of the importance of preventing such fires in our rural communities. With the memories of past wildfires still lingering in our minds, I know we are all thankful for the bravery shown by our emergency responders who answered the call to save lives and homes.
Those who live in areas with wildfire danger have willingly borne the risks and costs of enjoying a rural lifestyle. But I know that the last thing they need is a new fire tax on their homes that will do nothing to boost fire protection.
As part of the state budget, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a measure that will establish by Sept. 1 a new tax up to $150 on structures located in “State Responsibility Areas.” These areas are located primarily in rural and unincorporated parts of the state such as Plumas County.
The Democrats who passed this tax claim that it is only fair to have those who live in high-risk areas pay the higher costs of firefighting. They framed their argument around public safety by saying that the revenues that this tax will generate will help keep our communities safe.
Their argument may be compelling, but it is a misleading excuse designed to manipulate public opinion. When I studied the fire tax proposal when it came before the Assembly, I discovered two things. First, the fire tax will not generate extra resources for firefighting efforts. These new resources will simply replace the money that the Legislature took from the state firefighting budget to pay for welfare programs.
Second, the legislation that made the fire tax possible is legally suspect. Apparently, legislative Democrats forgot that the voters approved Proposition 26 last year to require new fees to pass by a two-thirds vote of the Legislature or by local voters. They passed it instead by a simple majority vote. I believe the fire tax is a clear attempt to undermine the will of the people.
Besides being unnecessary and unconstitutional, the fire tax is also unfair. Many homeowners already pay extra property taxes approved by local voters to pay for fire protection. These homeowners have also created defensible space and undertaken other measures at significant cost. But the fire tax makes no distinction — many Californians will now be taxed twice for the same level of service.
The fire tax should never have become law. My Assembly Republican colleagues and I released a no-tax budget blueprint in May that proved we could protect services such as firefighting. We wanted to reduce spending in other departments not critical to public safety, but the liberals said no.
Instead, I had to vote no on a budget with no public pension reforms, no spending cap and no meaningful structural reforms that would make government more efficient. It is a budget that kicks the can down the road and does nothing to address California’s long-term fiscal health.
Fortunately, due to the fact that the fire tax was poorly written, Gov. Brown’s administration is seeking some changes, giving homeowners some hope. That is because the amount raised could end up draining money from the state’s firefighting budget. But the fire tax needs to be ended, not mended. There are efforts to reverse the fee via referendum, so the voters may have the final say.
Ultimately budgets are about setting priorities. Legislators need to ensure that the people’s will is respected and the tax dollars they already send to Sacramento are spent wisely. Sacramento needs to live within its means and stop trying to balance the budget on the backs of rural communities.
I hope you will join me in signing the petition to stop the fire tax. To download the petition visit cagop.org/StopTheFireTax.
Assemblyman Dan Logue, R-Linda, represents the 3rd Assembly District in the California Legislature.