SACRAMENTO – Attorneys for the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association (HJTA) had their day in Superior Court on Friday, July 19, to argue against the State’s response to their lawsuit fighting the so-called Rural Fire Fee.
HJTA has always held that the fee is actually an illegal tax, requiring a two-thirds vote of the Legislature, and filed suit to have it struck down.
The State responded by filing what is called a “demurrer,” which is a pleading that attacks the legal theories upon which the lawsuit is based, and sought to stop the lawsuit from moving forward.
“The State said we couldn’t sue as a class action and they wanted four of our fourteen plaintiffs to be dismissed because those plaintiffs sought refunds for everyone who paid the fee, not just those who filed appeals with CalFire,” says HJTA on their website.
HJTA Director of Legal Affairs, Tim Bittle, urged the judge to allow the case to move forward. If the State acted illegally, he argued, it should not be rewarded by getting to keep the money of over 800,000 Californians affected.
As part of the 2011-2012 state budget, AB 29X was passed, requiring anyone living in what has been designated a State Responsibility Area (SRA) to pay $150 per habitable structure on the property. An SRA is an area where the state bears the primary responsibility for fire suppression and prevention.
The HJTA filed suit in October 2012, challenging the constitutionality of the fee on the grounds it is really a tax that needed a two-thirds vote in the Legislature to pass, but garnered only a bare majority and therefore never became law.
“The judge ruled in our favor that we can sue as a class action and did not disqualify any of our plaintiffs,” says HJTA. “Unfortunately, for now, the judge has also said that if the case is ultimately decided in our favor, taxpayers will only be able to receive refunds if they filed a timely appeal with CalFire.”
The taxpayer’s rights group feels they have won an important victory with the judge’s decision to allow this case to move forward as a class action. However, they say the decision “also underscores the importance of filing a timely appeal with CalFire if you want a refund.”
The forms and detailed instructions can be downloaded from the HJTA’s website, firetaxprotest.org, by clicking “refund.”