GOP: Repeal Fire "tax" - Brian W. Jones

GOP: Repeal Fire "tax"

— San Diego area Republican lawmakers stepped up their campaign against a $150 fire fee on rural residents, promoting legislation to repeal the charge and endorsing court challenges.

Majority Democrats teamed with Gov. Jerry Brown last year to adopt the fee, which could affect as many as 73,000 homes spread across 1 million acres in San Diego County alone.

Rough estimates say the fee will raise about $99 million, of which $10 million would come from San Diego County residents.

The state Board of Equalization is working on preparing the first round of bills to be sent out later this spring. Meanwhile, the Board of Forestry and Fire Protection is crafting permanent regulations on who will be charged how much.

“Unfair, unconstitutional and unnecessary,” is how the fees are described by Assemblyman Kevin Jeffries, R-Lake Elsinore, who represents parts of North County.

Jeffries has introduced Assembly Bill 1506 to drop the fees — a move that majority Democrats are likely to reject immediately. Republicans say the fee is truly a “tax” that required a two-thirds majority for passage.

The fee is designed to generate revenues for fire prevention programs. Supporters say it’s a fair way to help replenish a depleted Cal Fire budget. Those residents being charged are within what’s called “state responsibility areas” protected by Cal Fire crews.

Critics argue many of those already pay for protection, through property taxes or assessments levied by a fire district. They say it will not fund added defenses, such as crews and engines.

Assemblyman Brian Jones, R-Santee, is one of those opposed. He suggested it was Brown’s way of exacting revenge on conservative rural lawmakers “for not going along with his tax increases.” Californians, he said, need to tell Democrats “enough is enough” and fully fund public safety as the top priority.

Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, said his group is preparing to challenge the fee in court “sooner rather than later.”

There is a $35 credit for those who already pay in a fire district, lowering the bill to $115. About 200,000 Californians would pay the full bill and 600,000 are eligible for the credit, according to state estimates.