Gaines Fights Fire Fee says Fringe 2/13/13

Gaines proposes fire fee repeal legislation

Ted Gaines, (R) has introduced three bills to repeal or otherwise negate the CalFire State Responsibility Area fee.

The fee, which was invented by Governor Brown and supported by urban democrats, has been considered an illegal tax by many.  The $150 per inhabitable structure, less $35 if the property is in a fire district, doesn’t go toward putting out fires on the lands of those on whom the fee is levied.  Indeed, CalFire won’t put your house out if it’s burning; they don’t fight structure fires.   Instead, the fee goes for administration, “education” which means bullshit of some sort, and a bone gets tossed to rural counties in the form of hazard fuel removal.

If the collection is a fee, payers would receive a service.  If it were a tax, the public would get to vote on it.  The Governor and urban democrats tried to sidestep the process in bringing this fee.

The likely illegal, and clearly inappropriate, fee has raised ire, a smoldering anger that increased with the revelation that CalFire has been hiding money from the general fund, including over $3.6 million used for gadgets and a retreat at a Pismo Beach resort.  Ironically, the money came from receipts taken from property owners on whose property CalFire had fought fire.

Gaines’ legislation includes three bills.  SB17 would simply reverse the fire fee.  A second bill, SB 125, would exempt property owners who already paid into a fire protection district.  The third bill would exempt any landowner who made less than 200% of poverty level, acknowledging that many rural people are land rich and dollar poor, and it is increasingly hard to make a living from land (thanks in part to California Division of Forestry/CalFire).  Rural people pay more for just about everything already, for the privilege of living close to the land.

Gaines’ bills might have had little chance, given that urban legislators like the idea of dunning their country cousins, who they might imagine as all land barons living on estates.  The truth is a lot closer to rural people clinging to a way of life that is increasingly devalued by urban centers.  But revelations about CalFire misuse of funds, and a strong lawsuit from the Howard Jarvis Taxpayer’s Association might increase the chances that at least one of the bills will pass, giving some relief to rural areas.

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