It was illegal to make fire fee permanent

KCRA . com  12/5/12


A former California lawmaker who opposed a new statewide fire fee while he was a state Assemblyman says a decision Wednesday to make the fee permanent was illegal.

Former Assembly member Jim Nielsen told KCRA 3 that when lawmakers passed a bill authorizing the fee last year, they also debated how much authority over the fee should be given to the California Board of Forestry and Fire Protection.  A second bill asked lawmakers whether they would give the Board latitude over the fee in future years, and lawmakers voted no, Nielsen said.

“The legislature said no to what the board has just now done,” Nielsen said. “That indicates the intent of the legislature was to not make this interminable and give the board that latitude that they’ve concocted and exercised.”

Board members could not be reached late on Wednesday afternoon, but immediately following Wednesday morning’s vote, board chairman Stan Dixon said board members had no choice but to make the fee permanent.

Dixon told KCRA 3 that allowing the fee to expire would have left Cal Fire without millions of dollars, but he said he only voted for the fee reluctantly.

“I had mixed emotions because I had not been highly supportive of the way this whole thing came about in the first place,” Dixon said. "I thought it could have used a lot more input from people in the state of California."

The board and Cal Fire, which the board oversees, have heard from Californians across the state who oppose the fee, as high as $150 for many of the state’s rural residents.

Lawmakers approved the fee last year. At the same time, they took money from Cal Fire to help balance the state’s books. So, the fee’s opponents argue that they are being forced to pay to backfill the state’s general fund.

Homeowners are not receiving new services in return for paying the new fee.

The state faces a lawsuit from the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association because of the fee, and even the state agencies collecting the fee concede that there have been numerous billing errors, including double billing.