Wednesday, April 16, 2014

My turn: Taxpayers speak out against unjust fire tax

From page A4 | August 21, 2013 | 16 Comments

For the second time in as many years, the state of California is mailing hundreds of thousands of fire tax bills to rural Californians who live in the so-called State Responsibility Area. The bills are hitting mailboxes even as the class action lawsuit I’m backing has finally received a green light to move forward.

As Jon Coupal of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers’ Association is fond of saying, “the wheels of justice grind slowly.” Although I believe the lawsuit against the fire tax will ultimately prevail, it appears the trial won’t be until next year at the earliest.

Delayed justice means that hundreds of thousands of rural Californians, whether they can afford it or not, must write another check for up to $150 per habitable structure to the state of California to pay this unfair and unjust tax.

Given the confusing and controversial nature of this tax, I’m sponsoring a series of regional telephone town hall meetings to give impacted taxpayers — many of whom are senior citizens living on fixed incomes in mobile homes — an opportunity to receive information and voice their questions and concerns. To date, more than 2000 taxpayers have participated. (See for recordings and details on upcoming calls.)

Taxpayers are speaking out loudly and clearly. The following are just a few examples of what they’re saying:

• “I live on only Social Security — that’s all I get, and its already very difficult for me to make ends meet.”

• “I’m 81 years old, and I live on Social Security… I’m unable to work, and I can’t afford this… I don’t have the money to pay it.”

• “I was so afraid from what the letters were saying that if I didn’t get it in right away, somehow I was going to lose my property… This year I don’t have the money… I understand from what I’m hearing that there are lots and lots of seniors that are in my position.”

Many taxpayers wonder who is responsible for this unfair and regressive tax. The answer is simple: the governor and Legislature. And at the risk of sounding partisan, the bill was passed entirely by Democrats without a single Republican vote.

By now they could have repealed this tax, saving rural Californians another year of pain. It’s inexcusable they haven’t — especially now that the state is awash in billions of new voter-approved tax revenues.

As you may recall, the Legislature enacted the fire tax to backfill funds it raided from Cal-Fire. They disguised the tax as a fee, passing it on a simple majority vote in direct violation of California’s constitutional two-thirds vote requirement for new taxes.

Not only have the governor and Democratic lawmakers passed up opportunities to repeal the fire tax, they’ve also failed to make even the most modest and common-sense reforms to this flawed law.

One stalled bill would have exempted low-income Californians, including most seniors on fixed incomes.

In addition to taxing its poorest citizens, the state is also imposing a 20 percent per month penalty on those who can’t pay after unsuccessfully appealing their bills. That’s not a typo. The interest is 20 percent per month.

Once the lawsuit prevails, taxpayers should get back every cent they’ve paid plus interest. But unfortunately the state won’t guarantee that outcome.

The judge presiding over the case has indicated that if the lawsuit prevails those who failed to file timely appeals may not be eligible for refunds.

So if you live in the State Responsibility Area for fire prevention, you should pay your bill and immediately file an appeal for your own protection. (For instructions on how to appeal your bill, see

Paying and appealing not only protects your chance at a refund, it also protects you from government tax collectors. Those who don’t pay could face steep penalties and interest and other collection actions in the future.

I don’t like this tax either. But there are better ways to protest it than by not paying your bill. Support the lawsuit. Demand that the governor and Legislature end this injustice. Contact your friends and family members and urge them to do the same.

And be assured, until the courts strike down this illegal tax, I’ll continue to fight it for the sake of all rural Californians.

George Runner represents more than nine million Californians as a taxpayer advocate and elected member of the State Board of Equalization. For more information, visit


Discussion | 16 comments

  • robertdnollAugust 16, 2013 - 3:25 am

    there's nothing confusing about this tax

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  • cookie65August 16, 2013 - 5:14 am

    Many taxpayers wonder who is responsible for this unfair and regressive tax? You're kidding, right? If you pay taxes and don't know who it is that keeps confiscating your money then you are part of the problem.

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  • Nathan foltzAugust 16, 2013 - 6:34 pm

    They should rename it the Ray Nutting tax

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  • Happier in NevadaAugust 17, 2013 - 5:49 am

    What is even more ridiculous is that we felt forced to pay this tax last year after receiving it 9 months after we sold the property. By the time we decided we had to pay after sending a protest letter, there were additional late fees attached which we also paid. After sending in the money, we received a couple more statements long after the money should have been accounted for....more unnecessary spending by the State. Then last week we received a check for the late fees being much time and money is being spent to send out the billings and now to refund late glad we left CA!

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  • EvelynAugust 17, 2013 - 6:47 am

    "Wildland Fire - Diamond Springs Evacuation orders Lifted - HERE

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  • kggAugust 18, 2013 - 9:03 am

    i have a friend who lives in rural placerville - has five acres and pays a fire tax to the county of $80/year. this is why the state folks enacted this special fee. county taxes were not enough to cover the cost of fighting fires. i wonder how much the friday el dorado fire cost.

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  • DanielAugust 18, 2013 - 10:43 am

    I don't know if I have a strong position on this. I'm trying to feel as outraged as everybody else is since it sure looks fun, but just not feeling it right now.I haven't seen a good justification or breakdown so somebody has fallen down on the job. All I know is that from our house we have a pretty good view all around, and I've seen our firefighters in heavy action quite a few times. Last one was a grass/brush fire encroaching on a house, and a crew got between it and the house with no assurance of escape and beat that monster back. I watched the drama up close thanks to high-power binos, and prayed for that crew. About four years ago, I watched a wall of flame come up over a hill in our own neighborhood and I heard and felt diggers literally exploding like bombs into flame. Yes they do that! I called my wife up the road and said "grab all our key files and treasured memories, our PCs and throw everything in the car." By pure miracle the wind shifted and it stopped at the ridge, and within minutes the air tankers arrived and put that monster out. We in the community stood on an empty lot nervously watching them buzz our heads and drop their loads. I admit we live in a fire hazard area. If someone were to show me a reasonable, and reasoned, justification for this tax, you wouldn't need to twist my arm. Think about how much life and property are at stake, and we did all choose to live in a tinderbox, beautiful tinderbox, didn't we? Eyes wide open, they were!

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  • DanielAugust 18, 2013 - 10:45 am

    "Be careful what you ask for, you just might get it," as they say. Or, in this case, be careful what you fight against, you just might win, and then have to face the consequences next time that fire breathing monster rears its enormous head up over that hill by your house and it's hungry and headed right for you and yours and everything you own.

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  • cookie65August 18, 2013 - 3:09 pm

    kgg and Daniel, fire protection is essential and no one would disagree. Help me to understand one thing though. The fire tax was instituted as a fee charged to primarily conservative areas of the state. How come there has not been an earthquake fee/tax instituted on the more liberal bay area and southern California. Is it because earthquakes don't require first responders, search and rescue, and consume major resources? Private property owners do have some ability to protect their property from a wild fire but how do people in the bay area and soCal protect their property from an earthquake?

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  • kggAugust 18, 2013 - 3:38 pm

    cookie wrote: "The fire tax was instituted as a fee charged to primarily conservative areas of the state." kgg wrote: this california map shows areas of local, state, and federal fire protection. you will notice that most of the state's responsibility is in rural areas all over the state - north, south, and central california. northern california has more rural areas than southern california. this is why northern california is affected more than southern california - it has nothing to do with politics. whatever your politics, an agency is protecting you - be it federal, state, or local. as i mentioned, my friend on five acres pays $80/year for fire protection to local government and $150/year to the state. this works out to 63 cents/day.

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  • cookie65August 18, 2013 - 4:32 pm

    kgg, wake up, it is pure politics. You want to tell me a fire that burns up some field and a couple of out buildings is somehow more costly than a 7.0 in the middle of downtown San Francisco. The red counties got hit with a fire tax and the blue counties got nothing.

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  • kggAugust 18, 2013 - 8:44 pm

    cookie wrote: "...tell me a fire that burns up some field and a couple of out buildings is somehow more costly than a 7.0 in the middle of downtown San Francisco. The red counties got hit with a fire tax and the blue counties got nothing." kgg wrote: cookie, apparently you didn't look at the map. one more time: all counties are covered by a fire agency - federal, state, or local. southern california has larger cities and they are covered by a local agency. northern california has more rural areas and so more areas are covered by the state. the federal government also fights fires. EVERYONE is covered by one or one of the other two. it has nothing to do with politics. as for earthquakes - if you added up all the government costs in the last fifty years for earthquakes in california, it would be a drop in the bucket compared to the cost of wildfires during those 50 years.

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  • DanielAugust 18, 2013 - 7:17 pm

    The premise of your argument is that the cumulative long term costs of earthquakes is much more than the cumulative long term costs of fires. I have nothing to back me up on this, but I would question that premise, especially since you don't anything to back you up. Earthquakes are rare, when they happen, they're usually minor, and when they're big, they do indeed incur a huge cost. Where I live, in the summer, I see and smell fires almost constantly. I've lost count of how many tankers and helicopters have buzzed my house putting out fires nearby. As I write this, my eyes are burning from being outside today. This hasn't been the worse summer either. While each individual rural fire doesn't cost as much as a major earthquake in densely populated areas, it is probable that the cumulative costs of fires are greater. I sincerely doubt the fire tax is political. Besides, this area isn't as conservative as you think. That's a big myth around here. There were 45% Obama voters in this district believe it or not. Not every little thing is partisan you know. Besides, the revenue base is much higher for densely populated areas, so they can cover more of the rescue and recovery costs than we can with a much less concentrated revenue base.

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  • rodAugust 22, 2013 - 9:01 pm

    KGG, Daniel... typical leftist drivel. ITS A TAX on RURAL residents ONLY... GET IT? All of us pay taxes for the urban masses : welfare, unemployment insurance, vehicle taxes, income taxes, sales taxes that keep the state barely afloat. but only the RURAL population is getting soaked for fire taxes ... where's the urban contribution for wild fire??????DUH!

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  • RichardAugust 22, 2013 - 9:52 pm

    Dear George, When are you going to stop feeding off the public trough and become a net tax payer instead of a net tax receiver? As a legitimate libertarian-leaning taxpayer in the highest state and federal tax brackets, I am getting tired of sending so much of my hard-earned income to Sacramento to pay for career public leeches like you. Try getting a real job; as an attorney and corporate executive, I could do yours in my sleep.

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  • RichardSeptember 18, 2013 - 5:31 pm

    It's simple do NOT vote for a democrat again. I was a loyal supporter of the democrat liberal party. Never again will I vote for a progressive communist party .What's next are you going to confiscate my salt or sugar,raise my children ,woops I think the dems are for my own good.I guess I'm going to get investigated for writing this.WAKE UP AMERICA !!!! PROTEST !!!!.This just the beggining

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