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Rural Fire Fee Is Political 'Sleight of Hand,' Assemblyman Jones Testifies

State Responsibility Fire Fee is an illegal tax, Jones tells the state Board of Equalization on Tuesday.

The controversial rural fire fee imposed by the state is nothing more than "political sleight of hand" and constitutes an illegal tax, Assemblyman Brian Jones told the state Board of Equalization on Tuesday.

The board is charged with collecting the $150 fee, which was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in July.

The fee is due to appear on property tax bills for properties in unincorporated areas with residential dwellings, and is designed to help recoup some of the costs of fighting wildfires in blaze-prone regions.

But some residents and legislators are up in arms over the fee, which they say amounts to double taxation.

"Proposition 26 was passed by voters less than a year ago and expressly prohibits the Legislature from using loopholes to raise taxes by disguising them as fees and therefore circumventing the Constitutional requirements for passing higher taxes," Jones stated in a news release Tuesday.

The fee was passed by the Legislature on a simple majority. Jones estimates it could affect one million structures in California.

"This is nothing more than political sleight of hand and clearly does not pass Constitutional or ethical muster," Jones said. "It wrongly labels a 'tax' as a 'fee' and also double taxes residents by combining the new State Responsibility Area 'fees' with current local fire district assessments."

Sen. Joel Anderson and the San Diego County Board of Supervisors have also expressed opposition to the fee.

Jones represents the 77th Assembly District, which includes Ramona, Santee, Lakeside, El Cajon, La Mesa, Mount Helix and Alpine.

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