Rural California property owners now have one fewer bill to pay—one they’ve scorned for the last six years.
The cap-and-trade deal signed last week by Gov. Jerry Brown ends a $150-a-year fire protection fee. Brown and Democratic lawmakers created the fee in 2011, with the state budget mired in red ink.
It applied to properties in parts of California where the state is responsible for providing fire protection. It infuriated conservatives, who argued it was not a fee, but an illegal tax. And it lasted until Brown and Democrats negotiated it away to win Republican votes for cap-and-trade.
The California Department of Tax and Fee Administration says the new state law ends the fee’s collection starting July 1, but the fee’s elimination only applies moving forward, and does not cancel out past years’ bills, penalties or interest.
“It is one less fee that we would be collecting,” says the agency’s Venus Stromberg. “However, there would still be attempts made to recoup prior billings that maybe hadn’t been paid.”
Stromberg says if you’ve received a bill, you should pay it—even if it has a due date beyond July 1. That's because it was issued while the fee was still on the books, and is therefore still valid.
The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association is fighting to overturn the fee in court, and has vowed to keep its lawsuit going in hopes of winning refunds for property owners.
The state collected more than $380 million through the fee as of mid-2016, with another $47 million as yet unpaid by more than 170,000 fire fee account holders.