As firefighters bravely fought fires throughout Southern California, many taxpayers were receiving a third round of "Fire Prevention Fee" bills. Given the raging fires, one might think the revenue raised would be used to help pay for hoses, trucks and planes — anything to aid the fire suppression effort.
Under the 2011 law passed by the Legislature and signed by Governor Brown not a dime of fire fee revenues can be used for actual fire suppression — trucks, planes or hoses. The funds can only be used for "prevention" efforts, which seem to be few and far between.
With these latest bills, Californians who live in a State Responsibility Area have now been forced to pay about $200 million in what I firmly believe are illegal taxes.
In 2012 the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association (HJTA), with my strong support, filed a class action lawsuit against the so-called fee on behalf of nearly 800,000 impacted rural Californians.
Currently, HJTA is working on getting the lawsuit's class certified by the court in order to ensure all eligible fee payers receive a refund. We're continuing to advise taxpayers to protect their eligibility for a refund by timely filing an appeal (i.e. Petition for Redetermination) each year.
As you might expect, the State of California is fighting the lawsuit every step of the way. It seems the state will do everything in its power to keep the lawsuit from moving forward, including using attorneys paid with tax dollars to fight against taxpayers.
Even so, we're hopeful that the case will be heard in time for the judge to block next year's bills from going out.
-George Runner, member of the Board of Equalization