OLYMPIA — The state Department of Natural Resources will ask legislators for $126 million in the 2020-21 biennium to fund resources for fighting wildfires and to restore forest health.
“Wildfire poses a clear and present danger to the health of Washington’s people, environment, and economy,” said DNR Commissioner Hilary Franz. “As the leader of our state’s wildfire fighting force, I know we must continue to be proactive — not reactive — if we are going to reclaim the clear, blue summer skies we know and love.
“Our firefighters and scientists have given us the blueprint to protect our communities from flames and smoke, it’s time for us to have their backs and give them what they need to get the job done.”
The proposal will be introduced in the next legislative session. Funding would be placed into an account called the Wildfire Prevention and Preparedness Account.
The funds would provide 42 full-time firefighters, 15 fire engine leaders and fire trucks, a helicopter, protections and help to fire-prone communities and property owners, and training for volunteer firefighters.
The DNR is the largest firefighting department in the state and responded to 1,165 fires in 2019.
Revenue for the Wildfire Prevention and Preparedness Account will come from a surcharge on property and casualty insurance premiums. Each property and casualty policy pay an additional $5.
The Northwest Insurance Council released a statement Monday noting its concerns with the bill.
“The proposal from Olympia exclusively targets insurance policyholders to pay for it,” the group said.
The council noted that the $5 surcharge applies applies to all property and casualty policies except medical liability and is essentially a regressive tax because it applies to policyholders who live in fire-prone areas and those who don’t. The surcharge could also increase the tax rates paid by insurance companies in states outside Washington.