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Wilson Approves Tax Relief Bill for Fire Victims

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Gov. Pete Wilson signed into law Wednesday an Orange County legislator’s bill providing tax relief to homeowners in Laguna Beach and other Southern California cities who lost their homes during the devastating fires that swept the region last fall.

The measure by Sen. Marian Bergeson (R-Newport Beach) provides better tax write-offs for residents who lost their homes in the fires, which caused $1 billion damage to private and public property.

“I anticipated the governor would sign it,” Bergeson said. “I think this gives some reassurance to the victims of the Laguna Beach fire that they will get some help with tax time rolling around. For some, it will be a tremendous benefit.”

Fire victims will be able to deduct their losses on their income tax returns for the next decade. They can write off 100% of the losses for up to five years and then 50% of those the following five years.

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In addition, the bill authorizes an estimated $1.3 million in state aid to the five counties that stand to lose revenue because property tax assessments were adjusted downward for residents whose homes were destroyed by fire. The counties hit by fires were Orange, Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura and San Diego.

“This will be a boon for cities and counties,” Bergeson said, “especially at a time when they’re facing real fiscal problems that have nothing to do with the fires.”

Similar tax benefits were provided in other regions hit by disasters in recent years, such as the Oakland Hills fire and the Loma Prieta earthquake in the San Francisco Bay Area. Earlier this month, Wilson signed tax-relief legislation for residents devastated by the powerful Northridge earthquake in January.

Bergeson worked to push the legislation quickly so residents could take advantage of it before the April 15 deadline for filing personal income tax returns.

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