Letter to the editor: “Illegal fire tax” bills


By Senator Ted Gaines

Despite my efforts to stop it by referendum and legislation, the illegal fire tax is being assessed on more than 825,000 rural Californians starting this month, including 4,207 in Mono County.

This so-called fee was passed in 2011 to extract up to $150 per habitable structure from property owners. The tax will not provide any more fire protection and will actually make it harder for local fire agencies to raise the money they need to keep people safe. It’s a lose-lose proposition for the people in my district and for anyone concerned with public safety and the rule of law.

This tax should have been subject to a 2/3 vote in the legislature just like every other tax, but the Democrats called it a fee to get around that requirement. The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association is planning to file a lawsuit disputing the fee’s legality and I hope it gets overturned as soon as possible.

Until that happens, though, the State Board of Equalization (BOE) has already begun mailing the first bills for the new fire tax this month and hopes to have all bills sent by December. The BOE has also begun mailing an advance notice to the affected property owners to warn them that the bills are coming, and to provide them with a brochure explaining the “fee.”

No matter how many mailers or explanations or warnings any agency sends out, it doesn’t make this tax any more right or more legal. It was, is and always will be a shakedown of rural property owners that takes their money every single year but gives them zero in the way of additional fire protection.

Wildfires are currently raging out of control across the North State and they won’t be put out by the phantom protections promised in this bogus tax.  We need more firefighters, bulldozers, trucks and the other equipment that does the hard work of fighting these wildfires and protecting us, our homes and our property.  This tax leaves us no safer, only poorer and more skeptical than ever of a government that takes and spends taxpayer dollars with no regard to the law or to fairness.

I wanted to share with you several resources you can use to equip yourselves with information. Visit www.calfirefee.com  to see if you live in a “State Responsibility Area” and will be paying this tax. For questions regarding your bill, contact (888) 310-6447. For more information regarding the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association efforts, visit www.firetaxprotest.org.

Senator Ted Gaines represents the 1st Senate District, which includes all or parts of Alpine, Amador, Calaveras, El Dorado, Lassen, Modoc, Mono, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Sacramento and Sierra counties.



17 Responses to Letter to the editor: “Illegal fire tax” bills

  1. Ken Warner August 27, 2012 at 8:06 pm #

    Some questions:
    1) If it’s a law passed by the Legislature — how can it be illegal?

    2) Won’t the money generated by it provide the, “…firefighters, bulldozers, trucks and the other equipment that does the hard work of fighting these wildfires…” called for?

    3) Is it a fee or a tax? If it wasn’t voted on as a tax but passe as a fee then how can it be an illegal tax?

    I’m not taking a position for or against. Just asking questions.

    • Benett Kessler August 28, 2012 at 8:22 am #

      The bill language says the fee will pay for fire prevention, not fire protection.

    • Nancy August 28, 2012 at 1:48 pm #

      In response to Ken’s questions: This is technically a tax; however, in order to get around voter approval they called it a fee. Also, it does not provide for any equipment or firefighters, it goes toward administrative costs to pay for fire prevention and its education.

      In response to JaneE: I agree that the government should live within its means and if there is no money available then services need to be cut. However, in my opinion public safety is the number one priority of government and that includes firefighting. There are many other programs that could be cut before attacking public safety.

      I have made a choice to live where I do and there is an increased fire danger there. I have had extra fire clearing done around my house at my cost and I pay an increased amount of property insurance. I also have a fire safe council in our neighborhood that makes preventative improvements. I do not want to pay more taxes (fees), but I would accept it as a tax if it were properly approved by the voters and was used for actual firefighting, instead of administrative costs.

      • Ken Warner August 28, 2012 at 6:27 pm #

        May I ask why this is technically a tax? What’s the difference between a fee and a tax?

        • Benett Kessler August 28, 2012 at 6:32 pm #

          Taxes have to be approved by a 2/3 vote of the legislature. This measure was approved by a simple majority.

          • Ken Warner August 28, 2012 at 7:56 pm #

            So it’s seems to be technically a fee right?

            But either way it’s public money — I don’t want to say taken — a required payment by the public for public safety.

            Nobody wants to pay more out of pocket yet everybody seems to want more services and protections. The horns of a dilemma. And what do they say about an ounce of prevention being worth a pound of cure?

            But I repeat, I’m not taking sides here. It’s just interesting to watch.

        • Inyoite August 28, 2012 at 9:16 pm #

          A fee has to have a tangible, measurable, related, direct benefit attached to the person assessed it and can be passed by a simple majority. A tax doesn’t have to have a tangible, direct, related benefit to the person paying it, but requires a 2/3rds vote. To skirt the 2/3rds requirement, they slapped the label “fee” on this when there’s no tangible, measurable, direct benefit. In other words, they can’t prove that each “habitable structure” will receive $150 worth of “fire prevention” services per year – ergo, it is really a tax.

  2. Big AL August 27, 2012 at 10:03 pm #

    “but the Democrats called it a fee to get around that requirement” That say’s it all .. they can do what they want .. who will stop them?

    • politics as usual August 29, 2012 at 6:20 am #

      Big Al and his “Republican’s are #1” speech.
      As if his big party has never done the same.
      A bit too much Limbaugh, there, Big Al.

  3. Mike August 28, 2012 at 7:03 am #

    Instead of clearing brush that could be a potential fire threat in the SRA areas, the inmate crew under Cal Fire’s direction is trimming rose bushes at the fairgrounds. I think a reassignment of their priorities should be addressed before any new taxes are demanded

    • Big AL August 28, 2012 at 9:49 pm #

      You’re not exactly correct on that one Mike … yes they do work at the fair grounds, one or two of the crews do that work before the major events that use the fair grounds.

      They also go out and do other work around the area, such as what you want them to do .. There are several crews at the camp, I know of at least 4 or 5 crews.

      I have been seeing them working (crews) down in the Big Pine area this week .. I am thinking they’re doing this sort of work, clearance work.

      People or agencies can call for the use of these crews do do brush clearance, it does cost money, I’m not sure how much, but I think it is reasonable.

      I think .. if they are going to charge us the fee (second tax) .. then it should go for this sort of work, if people need it done around their houses and or residential areas. Maybe that is what they mean by prevention .. I hope so .. but maybe not.

      • Mike August 29, 2012 at 2:54 pm #

        They cannot do work on private land.

        • Mark August 30, 2012 at 6:40 am #

          I have seen inmate crews clear brush on private land in L.A. County. There is some type of loophole allowing handicapped property owners to get their brush cleared by these crews.

  4. Russ Monroe August 28, 2012 at 7:34 am #

    Very refreshing to see an elected public official taking a position in support of his constituents.
    Lose/lose is an understatement regarding this unconstitutional act on the part of the state legislature. After the enormous expenditure of public funds that it will take to get the California Supreme Court rules on this, the bills sponsors should be criminality charged and held financially liable for their actions. This will not happen, but it hitting legislators in their own wallets would go a long way to keep this abuse from being repeated.

    • SierraFan August 28, 2012 at 2:50 pm #

      It’s funny,

      I think our taxes are supposed to go for things this but it seems that when the cost of living (pensions and such) go up they start finding new ways of essentially double taxing or should I say triple taxing us. We pay way too much when you consider all of the taxes we pay like, income, state income, sales tax, gas tax, utility tax, etc. I say fight it and have it come from a balanced budget like we have to do at home in our personal lives.

  5. JaneE August 28, 2012 at 11:10 am #

    If the state doesn’t have enough money, it should just stop providing fire protection. This is the natural result of lowering taxes to reduce the size of government. There may be some homes, and possibly lives lost, but them’s the breaks. If it happens frequently enough to bother people, maybe they will elect legislators who are willing to create enough tax revenue to actually pay for the services the people need and want. Learn to make do with less, do it yourself, or make enough money to pay for the services you need. /sarcasm off

  6. Dingo August 28, 2012 at 12:09 pm #

    Is it just me or does Senator Ted Gaines have a smile much like Jack Nicholson when he played The Joker in the movie “Batman”?


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