By George Runner
Last year the Legislature approved and the Governor signed a law requiring nearly a million rural Californians to pay a new annual tax of $150 for every habitable structure found on their property. About half of these taxpayers live in the district I represent.
I’ve opposed this new tax from the beginning, because I believe it is unconstitutional. The Governor and Legislature simply called it a “fee” to avoid the 2/3rds vote requirement designed to protect taxpayers. As soon as possible, I intend to join a lawsuit asking the courts to halt this illegal money-grab. Unfortunately, no one can file the lawsuit to stop the tax until after the bills go out.
The purported purpose of this so-called “fire prevention fee” is to prevent fires, but in truth the millions of dollars collected will be used to fund Cal-FIRE’s existing bureaucracy rather than expand the state’s fire prevention efforts.
Even though the Legislature passed the law and Cal-FIRE is implementing it, the Board of Equalization is required to perform the ministerial function of sending out the bills. In mid-August BOE will begin billing the first of 825,000+ Californians who own habitable structures in a State Responsibility Area (SRA). The bills will go out by county in alphabetical order.
The new law requires taxpayers to pay within 30 days of receiving a bill or face steep penalties and interest. I’m concerned that many taxpayers will lack sufficient time to understand whether they must pay this new tax. That’s why I’ve asked Board staff to send a pre-notice to taxpayers who will soon receive a bill. While we can’t stop the bills from going out, we can at least try to make sure adequate notice is given.
To help inform taxpayers in my district, I’ve also established a new website (calfirefee.com) that provides further background and the latest news about this new law. You can also visit this site to find out if you live in an SRA and might soon receive a fire tax bill.
California needs a balanced budget, but we should not balance it on the backs of already overtaxed Californians. Be assured that I will continue to do everything in my power to protect taxpayers from unfair and excessive taxation.
Visit calfirefee.com today to learn whether you might soon receive a fire tax bill.