CALIFORNIA — The “Rural Fire Fee” that property owners in the State Responsibility Area (SRA) of California have been paying for the last six years is now a thing of the past. At least for now.
The controversial fire prevention fee was part of the 2011-2012 state budget meant to raise some $84 million to offset costs to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire), and has been roundly criticized since its inception. It has also been challenged in court and in the Legislature.
And now, with Governor Brown’s signature, it will be suspended as part of California’s renewed cap-and-trade program.
The fee — what is considered by many to be an illegal tax that should have required a 2/3 vote in the legislature — required more than 800,000 rural area property owners to pay between $117 and $150 annually; money that was to be used for fire prevention.
On Monday, July 17, both chambers of the state Legislature approved the extension of the State’s cap-and-trade program, which requires polluters to obtain permits for each ton of carbon they release.
The extension includes the suspension of the Rural Fire Fee, and will be in effect until 2031.
George Runner, Vice-Chairman of the Board of Equalization — the agency responsible for collecting the fee — has been a vocal opponent since the beginning. On Tuesday, he had this to say about AB-398:
“For six years, ruling Democrats have extorted money in the form of a fire tax from hundreds of thousands of rural Californians, including many seniors on fixed incomes.
“After blocking repeal efforts for years, state leaders finally acted today to suspend this unjust tax, but only because they needed to win votes for a costly climate change measure.
“In other words, they did the right thing for the wrong reasons.
“This seeming victory for California taxpayers is bittersweet. A suspension falls short of a full repeal, and it fails to provide refunds to homeowners who were forced to pay this illegal tax.
“It’s never too late to do the right thing: Give us our money back!”
The Sierra Club disagrees with the suspension of the Rural Fire Fee, stating that one of the consequences of climate change is increased fires.
During the proceeding in the Legislature, a representative of the Sierra Club testified that “the best way to protect people is to do fire prevention. The SRA fee goes to fire prevention. This amounts to just $10 a month for an entire apartment building. $10 a month for a home is a small investment to make sure we have fire prevention.”
Senator Tom Berryhill sees this as a tough trade-off.
“Do I like cap-and-trade? Of course not. But I do see it as a more reasonable way to ensure my folks had cleaner air without driving small businesses and jobs out of California.
“There was a lot about this deal I didn’t like, but if I had not joined the discussions, if I had just said “No,” rural California would have got nothing and cap-and-trade, or worse, would have become law anyway.”