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Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative Democrats are seeking a firefighting fee on rural homeowners significantly higher than the maximum $90 charge passed last week by California's fire board.

The new proposal would impose a minimum $175 per house fee, with an additional charge on land, starting at $1 per acre for the first 100 acres. Homeowners who live in fire districts, which includes 94 percent of the roughly 730,000 structures being charged, would qualify for a $25 discount.

Brown's Department of Finance expects the state to begin sending bills to homeowners in spring 2012. The governor said previously that California residents have increasingly moved into wild land areas in recent years, and he considered it fair to have them help pay the state costs of fighting wildfires.

Democrats consider the proposal a "clean up" measure of a budget bill intended to raise $50 million in the first year and $200 million annually thereafter. When Brown signed the original plan, Assembly Bill X1 29, he signaled that the proposal was flawed because it didn't allow the state to use fee dollars to fight wildfires.

That bill capped the charge at $150 and lacked acreage fees. The state Board of Forestry and Fire Protection last week approved a $90 fee with significant exemptions, such as a $45 discount for those who already pay district charges. That proposal would have raised a fraction of the $50 million that lawmakers had counted on.

Under Brown's latest proposal, the board would have to scrap last week's board plan. The new fee is contained in AB X1 24 and SB X1 7. Despite the higher fee, the Department of Finance believes it would still raise the same amounts of money after further analysis of rural home and land ownership. The bills require a majority vote.

The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association has vowed to fight the measure in court, saying it violates Proposition 26, a voter-approved measure that further restricted fees that could be passed by a majority, rather than two-thirds, of the Legislature.



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