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The Fire Fee Shell Game: You Lose!

Democrats in the California Legislature seem to be facing the reality that the fire tax they passed with the Governor’s help in 2011 is unfair. Californians who live in rural areas rely on a range of public services from multiple levels of government to combat fires. These residents already pay taxes to fund essential fire services.

The original fire fee was a scheme Governor Brown came up with after diverting about $90 million a year in fire prevention funds to help “balance” the state budget. Residents have gained nothing since this shell game passed. Not a dime of fire fee revenues can be used for actual fire suppression — trucks, planes or hoses. The funds can only be used for “prevention” efforts, which seem to be few and far between.

However, instead of simply repealing this onerous fire prevention fee, Democrats now want to replace a really bad policy with an even worse one.

AB 1203, authored by Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer is currently awaiting consideration by the Legislature. The bill would repeal the fire fee, but replace it with a 3 to 5 percent insurance surcharge on all commercial and residential property statewide. The money… Read More

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Government Stalling Tactics Slow Fire Tax Lawsuit

As Californians hope and pray for an end to California’s drought and dangerous fire conditions, I am thankful for the many brave men and women who put their lives on the line to fight fires throughout our state.

We’re also reminded that not one dime of our state’s so-called “Fire Prevention Fee” has helped fund this year’s firefighting efforts.

Someday a court will strike down the unfair and, I believe, illegal fire tax enacted by the Legislature and signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown in 2010.

But getting there is proving quite a challenge.

As you may recall, in 2012 the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association (HJTA), with my strong support, filed a class action lawsuit seeking to invalidate the so-called fee on the basis that it is really an illegally enacted tax.

Since then, California Department of Justice attorneys paid with your tax dollars have repeatedly sought to do everything in their power to slow the case down.

I’m told some of the state’s stalling tactics go far beyond what is typical of government attorneys involved in legal proceedings. These tactics include filing multiple demurrers aimed at blocking… Read More

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Fire Fee Update: A Bad Tax Gets Worse

The fire fee is a bad tax, not just because of the unnecessary burden it places on taxpayers, but because it is horribly inefficient to collect. From the beginning, the process of collecting the Fire Prevention Fee has been lengthy and expensive, proving it is a poor method for funding CAL-FIRE’s fire prevention efforts.

Unfortunately, this month the third round of Fire Prevention Fee bills began going out with the new rate of $152.33 (or $117.33 for the 97% who live in a local fire protection district). This set of bills will be for the 2013-14 fiscal year. Approximately 10,000 bills will be sent each day in alphabetical order by county. This marks the first time the BOE has sent two billings in the same fiscal year.

Remember, in order to be eligible for a refund under the lawsuit against the fire fee, property owners must protest every billing by timely filing a new Petition for Redetermination.

You can find a copy of the billing schedule at calfirefee.com/billing-schedule.

Keep up with all the latest fire fee news by following Calfirefee.com onRead More

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Cal Fire Should Halt Billing of Fire Victims

Today, I sent a letter to Cal Fire urging them to stop the collection of state “Fire Prevention Fee” from victims of the Clover Fire in Shasta County and the Rim Fire in Tuolumne and Mariposa counties.

Despite the heroic efforts of firefighters, these fires destroyed dozens of homes in my district. I am appalled the State of California would actually consider sending a tax bill to the very individuals who just lost their homes. Taxes are the last thing fire victims should have to worry about.

The Board of Equalization is required by law to mail “Fire Prevention Fee” bills on behalf of Cal Fire to nearly 800,000 Californians each year. Although the bills for Mariposa County went out in August, the bills for Shasta and Tuolumne counties do not mail until October 16 and October 28 respectively.

I also asked Cal Fire to authorize refunds for fire victims who have already received and paid a bill this year.

When and how Cal Fire will respond remains to be seen.… Read More

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Taxpayers Speak Out Against Unjust Fire Tax

For the second time in as many years, the State of California is mailing hundreds of thousands of fire tax bills to rural Californians who live in the so-called State Responsibility Area. The bills are hitting mailboxes even as the class action lawsuit I’m backing has finally received a green light to move forward.

As Jon Coupal of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers’ Association is fond of saying, “the wheels of justice grind slowly.” Although I believe the lawsuit against the fire tax will ultimately prevail, it appears the trial won’t be until next year at the earliest.

Delayed justice means that hundreds of thousands of rural Californians, whether they can afford it or not, must write another check for up to $150 per habitable structure to the State of California to pay this unfair and unjust tax.

Given the confusing and controversial nature of this tax, I’m sponsoring a series of regional telephone town hall meetings to give impacted taxpayers—many of whom are senior citizens living on fixed incomes in mobile homes—an opportunity to receive information and voice their questions and concerns. To date, more than 2000 taxpayers have participated.… Read More

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Will Fire Fee 2.0 Be Six Times Worse?

Better late than never, California lawmakers seem to be waking up to the reality that the illegal “Fire Prevention Fee” they enacted nearly two years ago is a complete fiasco. Even so, they are refusing to repeal it. Instead they are scheming up ways to replace the tax with yet another tax that’s even bigger than the first.

Where else but Sacramento would someone think the answer to a bad tax is to replace it with one even worse?

Assemblyman Wes Chesbro, who represents many rural taxpayers on California’s North Coast, is leading the charge to reinvent and expand the fire fee. His proposal (AB 468) would replace the fire fee with a 4.8 percent “surcharge” on all insured homeowners and businesses in the State of California, regardless of location.

A similar concept was proposed by Governor Schwarzenegger in 2009 but was rejected by the Legislature.

These payments, averaging $48 per policy and totaling an estimated $480 million per year, would find their way to a “Disaster Management, Preparedness, and Assistance Fund.” The fund would benefit bureaucracies, like Cal Fire, that are involved in the state’s disaster preparedness… Read More

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Fire Fee Lawsuit Served on State

Today the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association formally served the California State Board of Equalization, Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and Department of Justice with a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the state’s “Fire Prevention Fee.”

The wheels of justice grind slowly, but I’m pleased that this vitally important lawsuit is moving forward. Recent revelations regarding the state’s misuse of fire fee dollars have only strengthened our case that the ‘fire fee’ is really an illegal tax.

I plan to formally join the lawsuit by filing an amicus brief on behalf of the California taxpayers I represent. I’ve opposed the fire fee both during my time in the Legislature and as an elected member of the State Board of Equalization. But I’ve also encouraged impacted Californians to pay it because it is current law.

So far most taxpayers are doing so. Between August and December last year, the state mailed more than 760,000 bills for fiscal year 2011-12. As of March 1, about 72% of bills have been paid in full and 6% paid… Read More

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Serving My Constituents: A Duty and an Honor

According to a recent AP news article (“Calif. tax collector criticized for opposing fee”), several Democratic leaders, including a few of my colleagues, want me to stop my “high profile campaign” against the new “Fire Prevention Fee.” They argue that my role is to simply to collect taxes—not to speak out against them.

They’re right about one thing. I do have a responsibility to administer taxes. I’m doing everything in my power to ensure that this tax, and others, are administered effectively, efficiently and fairly. I’m also encouraging taxpayers to pay their taxes, so they don’t get caught up with penalties and interest.

There’s a reason California has elected tax officials, rather than bureaucrats, in charge of tax administration and appeals. We are elected to represent the taxpayers in our districts. Doing so involves speaking on their behalf.

Accordingly, I respect the right of my Democratic colleagues to speak on behalf of their constituents—even when they disagree with me.

The new “fire fee” is an… Read More

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