State suspends fire prevention fee until 2031

Smoke is seen from a 150-acre fire that burns near Castaic Lake. Austin Dave/The Signal


For many living in rural areas around the Santa Clarita Valley, many are about to get a yearly savings thanks to a deal struck by legislators this week when approving the extension on the state’s cap-and-trade program.

Statewide, about 700,000 Californians will be saving over $100 a year in fees after state legislators approved the suspension of the fire prevention fee this week.

Suspension of the fee was included as part of Assembly Bill 398, the cap-and-trade legislation that aims to help combat climate change.

Board of Equalization Vice Chair George Runner has been an outspoken adversary of the fee, saying most recently that suspending the fee was doing “the right thing for the wrong reason.”

“After blocking repeal efforts for years, state leaders finally acted today to suspend this unjust tax, but only because they needed to win votes for a costly climate change measure,” George Runner said in a statement Tuesday. “This seeming victory for California taxpayers is bittersweet.”

No part of the fee, which was introduced six years ago, goes to fire suppression and the fee has not introduced any new services.

Primarily, the fee pays for bureaucracy, inspections and special local projects for those who live in “state responsibility areas for fire protection,” according to Runner’s office.

The fee costs $152.33 a year, but with a $35 discount for those in an area with a local fire district, 98 percent of taxpayers pay $117.33 annually.

The amount of fire prevention programs and services they provide will not decrease because of the bill, said Daniel Berlant, Assistant Deputy Director for Cal Fire.

“The bill replaces our fire prevention programs and services by using cap-and-trade funds,” Berlant told The Signal. “We will still provide the same level of activities, if not more.”

The fire prevention fee brought in about $80 million each year to Cal Fire, Berlant cited.

“The important piece is that this provides a stable source of funding for fire source prevention,” Berlant said.

Since natural fires emit carbon into the air, there is a direct correlation between fighting climate change and preventing fires, according to Berlant.

“There is definitely a clear nexus between cap-and-trade funding for climate change and air quality and the need to do fire prevention,” Berlant said.

Especially in light of the already busy fire season, Berlant said, this legislation underscores the need to increasingly work toward preventing fires.

As the fee was approved with a simple majority, there is currently a lawsuit by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association to strike down the fee permanently and refund taxpayers.

The advocacy group claims the fee ought to have been approved with a two-thirds vote and claims the simply majority is “unconstitutional.”

In 2031, legislators will have to reevaluate if they want to keep the fee intact or revoke it permanently.

Runner’s office has encouraged taxpayers to file appeals, because if the fee is eliminated permanently, only those who appealed will receive a refund.

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