Thursday, August 11, 2011

California's New Fire Fee Already Being Extinguished

Considering that passing new fees without a two-thirds majority in the Legislature is supposed to be unconstitutional, it's not surprising that opponents of the $150 fire fee being assessed to rural homeowners have sprung into action. A ballot referendum to strike down the fee is already in the works, courtesy of Roseville state Senator Ted Gaines. And two stories in today's news probably have Jerry Brown and friends wondering why they bothered to ram this thing through.

Sometimes the choice of image really makes itself.
First up, with Sacramento counting on this fee to generate $50 million in revenues, lawmakers can't be happy with this report in the San Diego Union-Tribune, which describes how the actual fees paid by many homeowners may be much lower than $150. The state Board of Forestry and Fire Protection, which has been charged with developing specific guidelines for the Board of Equalization to implement, is considering a sliding-scale approach to the fee, rather than imposing a flat $150 on everyone affected. At this point, there seem to be a lot of different ideas floating around, and it's possible the fee could become an administrative nightmare in addition to the other problems it's facing.

Even worse is this revelation from the Sacramento Bee: paradoxically, the fee might make it more difficult for state fire officials to actually fight fires. You see, the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection was subject to steep cuts during the most recent budget negotiation, a deficiency that the new fee was intended to address; yet the fee goes to local fire districts rather than the state-level Department, and is intended for use in prevention activities. In other words, Brown and his Dem colleagues have gone to the trouble of passing a contentious new tax for fire protection that may end up making it harder to fight fires. Truly a great moment for government in action.


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