In what can only be described as a rare occurrence, two events occurred that show there is still hope when it comes to disaster management in the United States.
The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed placing an insurance surcharge on every California home and business that would raise roughly $130 million each year to pay for wildland firefighting. Due to the number of wildland fires that have occurred in California over the last year and the ever-increasing number of Californians who build homes in mountain enclaves, the state is facing an estimated $950 million bill to cover the costs for the wildland firefighters and all the air assets they use to extinguish the fires.
Schwarzenegger’s proposal faces stiff opposition because the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) concluded that the proposal “would unfairly burden taxpayers who aren’t threatened by the wildfires.” Instead, the LAO wants only those who live in areas covered by California’s CalFire to pay a property-tax surcharge. While there are equity problems with both proposals (those who don’t live near forests subsidizing those who do vs. punishing those who live in forests for that behavior while not taking a similar approach on other “choice” issues), either proposal is a significant step forward as both would limit who pays for California’s wildland fires to Californians.
When compared to the proposal passed in the U.S. House of Representatives that “would unfairly burden taxpayers who aren’t threatened by [hurricanes]” to subsidize the people who assume the risk of living in hurricane alley, either proposal possesses a strong federalism foundation. Given the trend over the last 15 years to federalize routine disasters in America, it is a breath of fresh air (California smog and all).
Another sign of hope that can be gleaned from the article is the total failure to mention FEMA or the federal government at any point in the 1,000-word story. It seems that every story involving a disaster of any scale these days always focuses on the role of FEMA and the federal government. Maybe this story represents the beginning of a movement by states and localities to take back the power Washington took over the