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Closing corporate annual report loophole may bolster Florida budget

TALLAHASSEE — Florida's constant search for more money could mean a tougher approach to businesses that fail to file annual reports on time.

By law, the 1.2 million corporations in Florida must file an annual report with the state, which can charge a $400 fine on every company that skips the May 1 filing deadline. The state, however, must waive the fine for most businesses if the company says it never got a reminder notice to submit a report.

Last year, 136,400 business requested a waiver.

"You know you got the notice. You just don't want to pay the fee," said Secretary of State Kurt Browning, whose agency includes the Division of Corporations.

Browning suggests lowering the fine to $200 but making it mandatory. That could result in an additional $30 million a year flowing into the state treasury, which would be a small boost at a time when the state is facing another shortfall of more than $2 billion.

The state also charges $600 to reinstate a corporation after it has been dissolved, for various reasons. But the same waiver provision applies to that, and 45,000 companies last year sought a waiver. Browning wants to reduce the reinstatement fee to $300 and make it mandatory, which he estimates could generate an additional $14 million a year in revenue, for a total of $44 million.

Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, who oversees the budget of Browning's agency, said he strongly supports the changes to the filing fees.

"The taxpayers are losing millions of dollars each year," Fasano said. "I'm not saying everybody is being dishonest, but it sure sounds strange that all these people are not getting their renewal notices."

Fasano said Browning should be able to keep all of the new money in his agency to improve state support of public libraries, the arts and cultural affairs programs, all of which have suffered budget cuts in recent years.

Before asking the Legislature to consider the fee changes, Browning approached lobbyists for Florida businesses and most were receptive to the idea. That could make the changes easier for legislators to approve in an election-year session.

"Retailers expect their customers to pay their bills on time, and we should not expect anything less from the state," said John Rogers of the Florida Retail Federation. "We think people ought to pay their filing fees on time."

Bill Herrle of the National Federation of Independent Business said the proposed change is an example of "good government" at work.

"It shouldn't be up to a bureaucrat to decide whether a late fee or a reinstatement fee is assessed," Herrle said. "It's very refreshing for them to come forward with a good idea."

Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.

Closing corporate annual report loophole may bolster Florida budget 11/13/09 [Last modified: Sunday, November 15, 2009 8:25pm]
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