Democrats and Republicans validly debate the size and reach of government. But certain services have always been considered fundamental. During California's pioneer days, rudimentary municipal services sprang up when communities of settlers agreed to chip in to provide common law enforcement, fire protection and, usually, basic public education.
In the latest efforts to close the gaps in public budgets, though, an increasing number of California cities are ripping holes in the fabric of local government. More than two dozen municipalities, including Stockton and Roseville, now charge motorists who are involved in auto accidents that require the fire department to respond to the scene. That might be for emergency rescue or putting out a fire with foam. Some charge anyone involved in a crash; many levy a fee only on nonresidents who have the bad luck to be in an accident in such inhospitable locales.
Several municipalities bill only insured motorists, on the assumption that insurance companies will cover the cost. That's particularly wrongheaded because it rewards people who illegally fail to insure their vehicles.
On July 1, the Placer County Fire Department began charging nonresidents; and now Sacramento, the seat of state government, is considering doing the same. The fees are being pushed by collection agencies that take on the task of billing motorists or their insurance companies for a percentage of the take. The insurance industry, of course, objects.