Jun 3, 2016
PNP comment: New rules explained by Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assoc., which is leading the lawsuit against the State of California. This is slowly winding its way through the court system, but so far HJTA is winning. Read more below. — Editor Liz Bowen
From Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assoc.
June 3, 2016
Petitions: One and Done
Once you have filed a timely Petition for Redetermination, you do not need to keep submitting Petitions each year. At first, HJTA advised people to submit a new Petition each year. This was in case the Court only allowed refunds for years when people filed a Petition. But now, the Court has confirmed that people protesting the Fire Tax only need to file one timely Petition. If we win, that timely Petition will make you eligible for refunds for the first year you filed and all following years.
If you did not protest the Fire Tax the first year you paid it, you may still be able to protest it! Correspondence with the BOE and CalFire has indicated that a Petition for Redetermination may be submitted to protest all the years the Fire Tax has been paid. The staff persons with whom we corresponded may not be the final authority on this question, but according to them you may check all the boxes on the form for the years you have paid. Please note that Petitions for Redetermination must still be postmarked within 30 days of the date on your bill. Petitions received outside of this time period may be considered invalid. If you have any uncertainty about whether you filed a timely Petition the first year you paid the Fire Tax, you may submit a Petition the next time your receive your bill and check the boxes for all the years you paid. Updated Petitions for the 2015-2016 billing cycle are available on our website at
Oct 5, 2015
Oct. 3, 2015
By Jim Miller
Amid a drought that has created bone-dry conditions across much of California’s wildland area, a state fire prevention account has ended recent fiscal years with tens of millions of dollars unspent.
The money has been generated by a contentious, four-year-old fee pushed through by Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative Democrats over the objections of Republicans and rural property owners. The state collected more than $300 million through June and spent about $260 million, including roughly $228 million on administration and statewide prevention activities, vegetation clearing, defensible space inspections and other programs. About $22 million went to a state tax agency to cover collection costs.
But as fires burned hundreds of thousands of acres this year, the state ended the fiscal year in June with an estimated $43 million in fee money left over.
“We made a lot of people in the Legislature take a vote on this fee that they never really liked. But then to collect the money and just sit on it, and not deploy it in ways to help make those communities safer, is just silly,” said Paul Mason, vice president of policy and incentives at Pacific Forest Trust, a forest protection group.
More than 800,000 property owners pay the fee, most of them $117.33 a year for each habitable structure. Property owners in parts of the foothills east of Sacramento, as well as those in communities such as Shingle Springs, Georgetown and Pollock Pines, are subject to the charge.
The money is intended to support fire prevention activities in the almost one-third of California where the state has the primary firefighting responsibility. Nearly three-quarters of the 31 million-acre area – mostly privately owned watershed, rangeland and forested areas outside city limits – presents a very high or high fire risk.
In the devastating Valley and Butte fires, state responsibility lands made up more than 80 percent of the areas burned. As of Friday, the Valley fire in Lake County had burned more than 76,000 acres, and destroyed 1,958 homes and other structures. The Butte fire in the Sierra foothills had burned 71,000 acres and destroyed 475 homes. Authorities have confirmed the deaths of four people in the Valley fire and two in the Butte fire.
Statewide since January, more than 5,300 fires have torched almost 300,000 acres, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. The toll would have been worse without activities and projects funded by the fire prevention fee, state officials said.
Yet officials said they have proceeded cautiously in spending the prevention fee money because they were not sure how much money the charge would bring in.
We do want to maintain a prudent reserve for unforeseen circumstances.
Department of Finance spokesman H.D. Palmer
“Given the fact that it’s a relatively new fund, there’s not a long track record on receipts. We do want to maintain a prudent reserve for unforeseen circumstances,” Department of Finance spokesman H.D. Palmer said.
The fund’s reserve, however, is much higher than that of the typical special fund. The fire fund began the current fiscal year with reserves totaling more than half of the prevention money the fee produced last year. By comparison, state special funds’ total reserves averaged about one-quarter of annual revenue in 2014-15. The state’s multibillion-dollar general fund ended June with reserves of just 3.5 percent.
State Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, who sits on the budget subcommittee that oversees Cal Fire, rejected the idea that the fire fund’s large reserve reflects prudence.
“They’re hoarding it,” he said. “What for, I don’t know.”
Some have suggested the state may have one eye on the courts, where it is fighting a lawsuit filed by critics who contend the fee is an illegal tax.
In August, a Sacramento County judge elevated the case to class-action status, and a trial date is expected next year. If the state ultimately loses, the fee revenue would disappear and the state would face refunding an estimated 12,000 property owners eligible for the class.
Refunding five years of fees to landowners who filed a required protest would cost more than $7 million. Nevada County Supervisor Hank Weston, echoing a common belief, said he thinks the large balance in the fire prevention fund reflects officials’ concern the state will lose the case.
Palmer rejected that notion. “If we budgeted on the assumption we’re going to lose every lawsuit, fiscal planning for the state would come to a screeching halt,” he said.
Lawmakers approved ABx1 29 in June 2011, creating a new State Responsibility Area Fire Prevention Fund.
The fee has proven to be more costly than usual to collect. About 10 percent of people initially do not pay the charge, said former lawmaker George Runner, a member of the state Board of Equalization, which spent $8.9 million of the fee money in the last budget year to collect the fee. The typical noncompliance rate is about 3 percent, he said.
“It really gets expensive for us when we have to chase after such a low amount,” Runner said.
Lawmakers approved the fee in June 2011, during the recession, as a way to help prevent budget cuts to Cal Fire. The fee was fair, some supporters said, because more people living in rural areas raised the state’s firefighting costs.
Elected officials soon began raising concerns about the unspent balances.
“I just don’t want money sitting there when there’s a lot of prevention to be had and an increase in the number of fires,” then-Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, who voted for the fee, said early last year, when fires were burning around the state. “You spend the reserves during the most crucial times.”
Weston, a former Cal Fire unit chief who pays the fire prevention charge, said there’s no excuse for all of the unspent money in the fund.
“Statewide, they’re collecting $75 million (a year), during one of the worst droughts, in one of worst fire seasons, and the best thing would have been to add a bunch of inspectors. They didn’t do that,” Weston said.
“I guarantee you that the biggest bang for your buck is you do prevention. It’s not glorious. (Fighting fires) looks good on the news,” he said. “But who knows? They could reduce the threat to some homes.”
They’re hoarding it.
State Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber
In the last budget year, nearly 150 local fire prevention councils as well as other applicants competed for fee-funded grants to clear brush, remove trees and other projects.
Organizations in Weston’s county and elsewhere applied for the money, but demand far exceeded the $9.5 million the state set aside for the purpose. Among the projects losing out were proposals by the Fire Safe Council of Nevada County to remove flammable vegetation and dead trees from around the homes of low-income senior citizens and disabled residents.
Organizations awarded local grants included fire safe councils in Lake County, which received approval in mid-March for $188,000 worth of projects to create a second evacuation route from Anderson Springs and clear vegetation in the Cobb area. The money recently became available, in the midst of the fire season, and the work had not been started before the Valley fire roared through those areas.
“It was money we wouldn’t have gotten any other way. We were just thrilled with what we were going to be able to do,” said Liz Black of the South Lake Fire Safe Council, who lives in the Jerusalem Valley and has been evacuated four times this year. “At this point I don’t know what’s going to happen” with the money.
The state cut the money available for local assistance grants this year, allocating $5 million – one-half of last year’s total. Instead, the state gave $5 million more to another department, the California Conservation Corps, which has handled some fire prevention activities in the past.
Other questions have surfaced about how the state uses the money.
This year, the administration proposed spending fee revenue to help carry out a new law meant to help protect Native American cultural resources during the environmental review process. It argued that the law affects Cal Fire’s plans for vegetation management.
Cal Fire “should not propose funding from fire prevention funds for CEQA archeological and cultural requirements,” a Senate committee report advised. The final budget paid for the law from another source.
The Legislature has allowed Cal Fire to use fee revenue to pay for litigation to recover money from people who accidentally start fires. Pursuing the cases, officials said, encourages people to be more careful and prevent fires in the state responsibility area.
Legislative attorneys, though, have warned that using the money that way likely runs afoul of Proposition 26, the 2010 voter-approved law which requires that any fee provide a direct benefit to the person paying it. Any money recovered goes into the state’s general fund, where it can be used for any purpose.
“Civil cost recovery is all about one thing – it’s about getting more money for government. That’s what the goal of the fire tax has been from the beginning,” Nielsen said. “It’s got nothing to do with prevention.”
31 million Number of acres in the state responsibility area, almost one-third of California
Plaintiffs in the lawsuit trying to overturn the charge say such spending proves their point. They contend the fee is really a tax that should have required a two-thirds vote of the Legislature, not the fee bill that passed on a majority vote.
Tim Biddle, an attorney for the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, one of the plaintiffs in the case, acknowledges the fee likely is paying for some brush clearing or inspections that directly benefit the people who pay it.
But hundreds of thousands of fee-payers are not receiving such services, he said, while fee money has helped pay for such work as post-fire data analysis and public education campaigns that offer no direct benefit to state responsibility area property owners.
“If you look at how the fee has actually been expended … it clearly looks like it is being spent on services and programs that benefit the general public, not the payers,” he said.
Jim Miller: 916-326-5521, @jimmiller2
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Apr 12, 2015
From Howard Jarvis Tax Payers Assoc.
Senate Bill 520 no longer on the agenda at next week’s hearing
Earlier this week we emailed you about SB 520, a proposal by Senator Tom Berryhilll to repeal the fire tax.
This bill had been scheduled to be heard in committee on April 14th.
However, consideration of the bill has now been postponed.
We will keep you informed of the progress of SB 520 and how you can take action in opposition to the fire tax.
Please also be aware that the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association’s lawsuit against this unfair tax continues to move forward and we will also be providing you with updates on the lawsuit’s progress as the case continues to move forward.
Thank you so much.
Fire Tax Protest.org
Nov 11, 2014
From Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assoc.
Our attorneys are reviewing 13,000 pages of documents
Many people affected by the fire tax have asked us when our lawsuit will be resolved.
With our state’s high unemployment and high poverty rates, we understand your frustration with this burdensome tax. Unfortunately lawsuits can take a long time and that is especially true here because this is a “class action” with lots of complicated procedures.
Our legal department is currently working on a phase of the case known as “discovery,” where both sides are given the opportunity to ask each other for relevant information.
After our attorneys sent the State’s lawyers formal questions and requests for important documents, the State sent back 13,000 pages of material.
Our attorneys are presently reviewing these documents in order to prepare for trial. We will continue to provide periodic updates regarding this matter.
Oct 2, 2014
AB 2048 waives fee in disasters, reduces late penalties
A measure sponsored by Assemblyman Brian Dahle, R-Bieber, to reform the state’s “fire prevention fee” will become law.
The Governor signed Assembly Bill 2048 on Tuesday, fixing some of the worst parts of the Cal Fire “fire prevention fee” imposed on residents of the mostly rural State Responsibility Area.
It waives the fee for homeowners who lose their residence to a wildfire or other natural disaster – commonsense relief that was not allowed under the original legislation. It reduces a steep penalty for late payment — 20 percent per month – to just 10 percent, in line with other state fees. It ends mandatory annual increases for inflation. And it streamlines appeal procedures.
“Like most North State residents, I’d rather see the fee simply repealed,” Dahle said. “In the meantime, this bill reforms some of the worst aspects of the fee. In particular, it was egregious that the law taxed homeowners who’d lost their homes to fire.”
Assemblyman Brian Dahle, R-Bieber, represents the 1st Assembly District, which includes Shasta, Lassen, Nevada, Siskiyou, Modoc, Plumas and Sierra counties, and portions of Butte and Placer counties.
Jun 12, 2014
This info is from the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assoc. that has filed a class-action suit against the State of California claiming the fee was incorrectly voted upon by the State Legislature and is, in reality, a tax.
The following info is recommended by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assoc.
Challenging the Fee and Claiming a Refund
You must pay your bill. PAY CLOSE ATTENTION TO THE DUE DATE. You may have fewer than 30 days to pay. If you are late, steep penalties and interest are compounded monthly. Moreover, the fee is a lien on your property, and failure to pay can result in foreclosure.
We at the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association believe this fee is really an illegal tax under Proposition 13. We plan to challenge the constitutionality of this tax in court.
Should we prevail, the court may order refunds. To qualify for a refund you must have paid your bill and filed a “Petition for Redetermination” with the responsible agencies.
For convenience, we have posted the form below with the grounds for challenging the fee already filled in. Page 2 contains instructions for completing the form.
When you pay your fee, we recommend that you write “under protest” on the notation line of your check. Also, make a copy of the check so that you can enclose it with your Petition for Redetermination form, as proof of payment.
Although only one address appears at the bottom of the form, state law actually requires that you submit the form to three different addresses. You must submit it WITHIN 30 DAYS OF THE DATE OF YOUR BILL to the three addresses below:
1. Fire Prevention Petitions, P.O. Box 2254, Suisun City, CA 94585
2. Board of Forestry and Fire Protection, P.O. Box 944246, Sacramento, CA 94244
3. Board of Equalization, P.O. Box 942879, Sacramento, CA 94279
Download form at:
If you have further questions, click here. This will take you to the “Frequently Asked Questions” section of this website.
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