Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association Sues to Block Rural Fire Fee
As expected, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association has filed a lawsuit to challenge the legality of the rural fire fee, which the organization argues is an illegal tax because it did not receive a two-thirds vote from the Legislature. The fire prevention charge has applied to over 800,000 rural properties and the class-action lawsuit seeks to return the funds to property owners. The heart of the dispute and legal battle comes down to whether the assessment should be classified as a fee or a tax. Since the state pushed it forward as a fee, it only required a majority vote for approval. When voters approved Proposition 26 in 2010, it gave the Legislature the ability to use a simple majority to pass fees that pay for services, but the lawsuit argues that the assessment has incorrectly been called a fee rather than a tax.
Jon Coupal, President of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, stated the following: “This tax was dreamed up by politicians in Sacramento who are so desperate for revenue that they were willing to ram this through the Legislature without the proper two-thirds vote. The fire tax is a direct violation of Prop. 13. It is our goal to overturn this tax, prevent the politicians from taking more money from hardworking people for a program they were already paying for, and help taxpayers to get a refund from the government."
Many critics have also argued that the fee amounts to double-taxation since rural homeowners who already live in a fire district are assessed for the service and the $150 state fee comes on top of what they pay locally. To address this criticism, the state has implemented a $35 credit.
The Taxpayers group has been preparing its case since the state began sending out bills for the fee in August. Plaintiffs from Kern County, Mendocino County, Calaveras County, Butte County, San Bernardino County, Solano County, San Luis Obispo County, El Dorado County, and Lassen County Opposition to the fee is apparent across the state, as officials have already received 12,674 appeals.
Many county officials have spoken strongly against the fee and in some cases have been caught in the middle, as they are left to answer for the state’s actions. For example, Calaveras County Assessor Leslie Davis and staff in her office have received many questions from residents about the fee while she is personally opposed to it. Davis stated, “I oppose the fee. I believe that the fee is a tax in disguise and that it violates the original intent of Article XIIA of the California Constitution. Before implementation, the voters should have been consulted, and without their approval, the fee should not exist.”
In response to the litigation, Cal Fire spokeswoman Janet Upton commented, “It’s unfortunate that the group is attempting to obstruct funding that is badly needed.”