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In last-minute scramble, lawmakers approve timber tax

September 1, 2012 |  2:04 pm

California timber tax

A tax on timber came back from the dead early Saturday morning, with lawmakers giving their final stamp of approval to the proposal in the final minutes of a legislative session that stretched past midnight.

The proposal uses the tax to fund oversight of the timber industry. It also included controversial limits on legal damages for wildfires, restricting how much government agencies can sue for negligence.

Federal prosecutors and Obama administration officials opposed the limits, raising concerns they would make it more difficult to secure money needed to recover from damaging blazes. However, the timber industry has argued that prosecutors are suing for much more than the land is actually worth.

The timber plan, first introduced in Gov. Jerry Brown's budget proposal, became the subject of last-minute gamesmanship in the Capitol because it required a two-thirds vote, meaning Democrats had to win over two Republicans in each house.

Sens. Bill Emmerson (R-Hemet) and Tom Harman (R-Huntington Beach) put up the two necessary votes in the Senate shortly after midnight, sending the bill to the Assembly. However, it was voted down.

"This is very simple," said Assemblyman Tim Donnelly (R-San Bernardino). "We're literally taxing 2-by-4s, the very building blocks of our homes."

Brown's chief of staff, Nancy McFadden, asked Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez (D-Los Angeles) for more time to rally votes, and he obliged. Brown's team went to work, lobbying lawmakers outside the Assembly chamber for support and securing the votes within minutes.

Assemblymen Nathan Fletcher, a San Diego Republican-turned-independent, and Cameron Smyth (R-Santa Clarita) voted for the bill to give it the bare minimum needed to pass.

Democrats hailed the plan's passage.

"We needed critical reforms to ensure sustainable forestry management and to protect jobs in impoverished parts of our state," said Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield (D-Woodland Hills).

RELATED:

Obama cabinet official criticizes Brown's wildfire plan

Gov. Jerry Brown seeks to cap wildfire liabilities in California

U.S. settles with timber firm over 2007 fire north of Lake Tahoe

-- Chris Megerian and Anthony York in Sacramento

Photo: Timber awaiting shipment in Eureka, Calif. Credit: Los Angeles Times

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