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Politics

Taxpayer Group Sues Over Rural Fire Fee

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SACRAMENTO (AP) — A taxpayer group, joined by plaintiffs throughout California, filed a lawsuit Thursday seeking to block a fee that is being assessed on more than 800,000 property owners to raise money for fire prevention.

The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association asks for a declaration about whether the fee is valid and seeks refunds for those who paid the fee and filed a claim with the state.

The lawsuit, filed in Sacramento County Superior Court, claims that the $150 annual fee being assessed on 825,000 rural properties is actually an illegal tax that required a two-thirds vote of the Legislature rather than the simple majority vote it received in 2011. Targeted property owners began receiving the tax bills in August.

The association’s president, Jon Coupal, criticized the fee as an example of what he termed budget “gimmicks” by Democrats, who control the Legislature. The fee passed without Republican support.

Even Gov. Jerry Brown “admits this thing is of dubious legality,” Coupal said. He referred to Brown’s 2011 signing message in which the Democratic governor asked lawmakers to clarify the bill’s language. They didn’t, and the administration began collecting the fee under the provisions of the original bill.

“When this thing is all done, it’s going to be a monumental waste of time and money,” Coupal said.

The association was joined in filing the lawsuit by 11 plaintiffs from nine counties and hopes to have it certified as a class action. It names as defendants the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, which is deciding who will pay, and the state Board of Equalization, which is sending out the bills.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.)

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