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Bipartisan bill throws money at fire problem

Forthcoming legislation from a bipartisan group of California state legislators tackles an important problem – the state’s ongoing battles with wildfires – in the same old way. It spends more money hiring more government employees, but fails to address why the current budget isn’t doing the job.

The bill has yet to be introduced so we’ll need to look at the details, but the basic parameters have been widely reported. Sens. Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield, Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, and Brian Dahle, R-Bieber, have proposed adding 1,124 permanent and seasonal firefighters to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire).

The measure would also require the assignment of three firefighters to every engine (upping the current average of 2.7) and would mandate the completion of a staffing study. McGuire has said that this expenditure is merely a “down payment” on the need for hiring even more firefighters.

It’s hard to oppose legislation that would boost the state’s firefighting abilities, especially after several years of grueling fire seasons. McGuire also introduced – and Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed – a law (Senate Bill 206) that applies the Firefighter Procedural Bill of Rights to seasonal employees, which gives them additional union protections.

Although everyone appreciates firefighters’ tough work, Cal Fire faces the same problems that afflict every bureaucracy – namely, high costs and union work rules that reduce its ability to provide cost-effective public services.

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