Republican Assemblyman James Gallagher, who represents areas affected by the deadly Camp Fire in Butte County, introduced a pair of bills last week to aid in disaster recovery.
Assembly Bill 41 seeks to increase the state's share to cover the local costs of removing debris from the thousands of residences and hundreds of businesses destroyed. Assembly Bill 42 would provide funding to replace sources of local tax revenue lost in the blaze.
"AB 41, first of all, seeks to cover the costs — the local share cost of debris removal. And it's designed to help locals because there's going to be a huge effort needed to clear out all the different household waste — obviously, the ash and the burned-out materials from these communities," Gallagher said. "And it's just it's going to be very costly to deal not only with the removal but then also ensuring that those things are treated properly and disposed of properly. And so we want to ensure that we help the locals with that cost and that ultimately we're able to do that as quickly as possible as well, so that people can begin the process of rebuilding infrastructure, rebuilding homes and businesses."
Property taxes were due Monday, but now property values need to be re-evaluated for the thousands who lost their homes. Gallagher said AB 42 is designed to help Butte County deal with the thinner tax base.
"AB 42 is really geared at tax stabilization," he said. "So if you could imagine for a moment that the city or town that you live in is completely gone and completely wiped out. It's going to be many years before people rebuild, let alone start going to the grocery stores and going out to restaurants. All those things are gone. So imagine the entire community and those facilities and the places that you normally go being completely gone. Well, because nobody is doing that, there's no tax base, for instance, for the town of Paradise."
Cal Fire says the Camp Fire, the most destructive wildfire in modern state history, destroyed at least 18,793 structures, including 13,972 residences and 528 commercial buildings, primarily in and around Paradise, a town of 27,000 in the foothills east of Chico. The conflagration was the deadliest fire in California history, killing at least 85.
"AB 42 then would provide a backfill of the revenues for local governments and schools and water districts — local utilities that help support the towns that have been wiped out and ensure that they are funded so that they can carry out all the functions that they're going to need to carry out in the recovery," Gallagher said.
He said he hoped AB 42 could provide relief for at least three years. Gallagher said some emergency money could be freed up through AB 42, but that he would probably seek reallocation of money in the existing 2018-2019 budget.
"We're looking to all those different areas," Gallagher said. "It's not unprecedented. For instance, last year with the fires that were experienced in Sonoma County there was backfilling of tax revenues lost there. There was also money supplied to help with the rebuild of public infrastructure and covering the local costs of that effort as well. So it's not that this has never been done before. We have had disasters where there's been a backfill of revenues for the local communities."
Gallagher said he feels optimistic AB 42 will pass.
"We have already gotten some good support from colleagues that are saying they want to help with this rebuild and relief effort," he said. "It's obviously going to have to go through the process — both legislative and budget process. But yeah, I believe that the state is going to be there to help support these north state communities in rebuilding and coming back from this devastating fire."
Rep. Brian Dahle, R-Bieber, and state Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Tehama, are principal co-authors of both bills.