It should come as no surprise that the Democrats have found a way to blame President Trump for the wildfires raging across California, when the real story is that Democrat Gov. Jerry Brown — who cut the state’s fire protection budget several years ago, and levied a “fire tax” on mostly rural and Republican districts — is quietly repealing the controversial tax in order to attract GOP votes for extending the state’s “cap-and-Trade” program.
In a strange twist of fate, Brown is doing what Republican legislators failed to do, despite repeated attempts: he is repealing his own “Fire Prevention Fee” in the midst of what is shaping up to be one of the worst fire seasons on record.
In 2011, Brown cut almost $40 million out of the state’s budget for California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFIRE), and then levied a fee of roughly the same amount on mostly rural and Republican districts, reportedly as revenge for the GOP’s role in killing a sales tax increase that expired on July 1 2011. The so-called “fire fee” quickly became known to its detractors as the “fire tax.” It was passed in an emergency session of the legislature, and went into effect September 1st of that year.
Now, an Assembly Bill (AB 398) authored by Democrat Eduardo Garcia, the Palm Desert’s representative — whose district covers vast rural areas that are under the State Area of Responsibility (SRA) subject to the “fire tax”— found it’s way into the cap-and-trade deal quarterbacked by Brown.
Garcia’s bill would “suspend” the fire fee until 2031, and would empower the legislature to replace the lost “fire prevention” funds with “moneys derived from auction or sale of allowances.”
That makes the passage of the governor’s cap-and-Trade extension that much more important, as the number of state programs depending on its revenues, including the controversial high-speed rail project and a number of so-called “sustainable” housing and transit programs, grows daily. Brown wants to make the program “lawsuit-proof,” requiring a two-thirds vote of the legislature, claiming the program is neither a tax or a fee in spite of the program’s forced participation.
The “fire tax” is currently subject to a class action lawsuit against the state brought by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association challenging the fee’s passage as an “illegally passed tax” approved by less than two-thirds of the legislature, as constitutionally required.
The de facto repeal of the onerous, unpopular, and most likely unconstitutional tax will be welcome relief to California’s rural property owners — even if potentially at the expense of the very business owners who employ them.