Budget woes continue, post 9-11...and the impact may be costly to Landowners.

By DON THOMPSON
Associated Press Writer
SACRAMENTO (AP) - Landowners on nearly 32 million acres where
fire protection is provided by the California Department of
Forestry and Fire Protection may have to jointly pay $50 million in
firefighting costs that was stripped out of the budget approved by
lawmakers Tuesday.
The budget pulls $50 million from the department's $600 million
annual budget to help eliminate a potential $38 billion deficit.
A pending bill, still being finalized for lawmakers'
consideration later this month, would let the department recover
the $50 million by collecting fees. How is still uncertain, said
department spokeswoman Karen Terrill, but the fire protection fees
would likely be charged to landowners, possibly collected by county
tax assessors.
The department provides fire protection for nearly a third of
California's roughly 100 million acres, mostly in rural areas at
lower elevations. By comparison, the federal government has
jurisdiction and primary firefighting responsibility for another
roughly 40 million acres.
Charging landowners for firefighting costs was proposed last
year by the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office. The analyst
suggested they be billed for half the $282 million taxpayers pay
for fire suppression from the state's general fund, or $141
million.
Department Director Andrea Tuttle opposed the idea. She told
lawmakers that owners of about 20 million of the nearly 32 million
acres, including 95 percent of improved lots, already pay fees or
taxes to local fire protection districts. She suggested all
Californians benefit from fire suppression and should pay the
costs.
Idaho, Montana and Oregon charge a per-acre fee, while Oregon
charges an additional $38 a year on improved lots.
A second proposed fee, this one on logging companies that submit
timber harvest plans for state review, was stripped out of the
department's budget at the last minute at the insistence of
Assembly Republicans.
Meanwhile, the Department of Fish and Game faces a potential
$4.2 million dilemma.
The budget approved Tuesday assumes that money will be made up
by an increase in hunting and fishing fees - but the fee increase
language was dropped at the last minute from a second piece of
legislation.
The department hopes to include the fee language in a bill
lawmakers will consider when they return from their summer recess
later this month, but "as of right now, those are in limbo and our
budget's in limbo," said spokesman Steve Martarano.
Gov. Gray Davis had proposed that resident sport fishing
licenses would increase $2 to $31.25, while resident hunting
licenses increase $1.75 to $31.25. The state's other fees for
resident and nonresident, commercial and sport fishing and hunting
also would increase.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)