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Is The Fire Tax Unconstitutional?

Assemblyman/Senator Jim Nielsen, Fire Fees

Is The Fire Tax Unconstitutional?

Recent issues of Budget Fact Check have examined whether the Governor’s proposed tax increase would benefit priorities like education and higher education.

This issue of Budget Fact Check spotlights state budget funding for one of government’s most important responsibilities – fire protection.

The newly-enacted $150 fire tax will be imposed on residents living in State Responsibility Areas to fund CalFire.  Its adoption has been a controversial move both politically and legally.  The outcome of the political debate and expected legal challenges could significantly impact the 2012-13 budget.

Consider that:

  • Assembly Bill 29x requires homeowners in State Responsibility Areas to pay a fire tax of $150 annually, but they do not receive any additional fire protection.

  • The fire tax violates Proposition 26, which requires any new fee or tax that broadly benefits the public to pass by a two-thirds vote of the Legislature.  Assembly Bill 29x passed with only a majority vote.

  • The 2011-12 Budget Act includes $50 million in new fire tax expenditures and the Governor proposes $48 million for 2012-13.  During the same period, General Fund baseline expenditures have been reduced by $191 million, requiring reductions in engine and dozer crews, Tahoe basin staffing and air attack capabilities.  Any revenue collected from the fire tax is not meant to backfill these reductions.

  • The Governor’s reliance on up to $88 million from the illegal tax could create an additional hole in the 2012-13 budget.  For example, the Board of Equalization recently estimated fire tax revenues could be $67 million. This uncertainty will put additional pressure on next year’s budget.  The state has already borrowed $50 million from the General Fund in 2011-12 to make up for uncollected fire taxes.

Click to continue reading “Is The Fire Tax Unconstitutional.”

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