No new taxes but plenty of fees


Published: Thursday, May 1, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, May 1, 2008 at 12:15 a.m.

TALLAHASSEE - Lawmakers didn't pass any new taxes this year. But they certainly passed a slew of new fees.

Facts

Examples of some rising fees

Here are some examples of the fee increases lawmakers will approve as part of a $66 billion budget deal:

A $10 increase in the $40 application fee for anyone seeking to be declared an indigent and be represented by a public defender.

A 50-cent increase in the $1.50 fee clerks charge for the certification of public records.

A $4.50 increase in the $37.50 fee for sealing or expunging a court file.

A $15 increase for the $100 fee for petitions involving foreign wills.

A $45 increase in the $250 filing fee for trial court or appellate proceedings.

A $1 90 increase in the $75 fee for filing an action to remove a tenant from rental property.

A $20 increase in the $80 per person fee for circuit court family mediation sessions.

A $17.50 increase in the $7.50 service charge for delinquency actions involving support or alimony agreements.

A $5 increase in the $30 court costs involving moving traffic infractions.

A $25 increase in the $10 court costs for boating infraction cases.

A $25 increase in the $200 court costs for persons pleading guilty to felonies.

A fee of between $100 and $500 for wetland boundary determinations by the Department of Environmental Protection, with the fee linked to an inflation index.

A $100 increase in the $250 annual registration fee for pesticide brands in the Department of Agriculture.

A variety of increases for boat registrations, based on the boat size. For instance, a boat more than 16 feet but less than 26 feet would pay $28.75 for its annual registration, up from $18.50. Beginning in 2013, the fees would be automatically adjusted every five years based on an inflation index.

In the court system alone, consumers will pay another $120 million a year in fee increases. The fee hikes cover a wide range of legal activity from the mundane - asking to have a public record certified will jump 50 cents to $2 - to the more esoteric - admitting a foreign will in a probate proceeding will cost $115, up from $100.

Outside the court system, lawmakers increased other fees involving environmental permitting, agricultural activities and boating registration.

Facing a state budget crisis, Republican leaders in the Legislature vowed not to raise taxes this year, saying an economic downturn was the worst time to raise taxes. But in crafting the $66 billion state budget - which will be voted on Friday - lawmakers used the fee increases to shore up critical services, with the court system being the largest beneficiary.

"I'm OK with user fees,'' said Senate Finance and Tax Chairman Mike Haridopolos, R-Melbourne. "That is something where people understand that they pay this fee to get this service. What people are frustrated about is when they see their taxes paid into a general fund and they have no idea where it is being spent.''

Haridopolos compared fee increases to using a toll road. "Because it's faster, I'm willing to pay a few more bucks,'' he said.

The fee increases have moved forward with little controversy, although some critics have emerged.

The state's Realtors have objected to the new $265 fee - up from $75 - for filing eviction actions against tenants.

Trey Price, a lobbyist for the Florida Association of Realtors, said the nearly 400 percent increase in the filing fee seemed to be "out of line with the others.''

Price said the Realtors understand the need for more court funding and support it, but he said the eviction fee increase may ultimately hurt consumers more than their landlords.

"The landlords will have to take into consideration the inevitable bad tenant when they're looking at their rents,'' Price said. "It has to be factored in and spread out over everyone else.''

Kent Spuhler, executive director of Florida Legal Services, which represents low-income Floridians in legal disputes, said he had not reviewed the final fee bill but had concerns during the earlier debate that the increases could disproportionately hurt the poor.

Spuhler said there was discussion of increasing the fee for the filing of "counterclaims.'' A counterclaim could occur in case where a man, who had the income and assets in a marriage, left and filed for divorce but did not raise any issues of child support or custody. The wife would have to file a counterclaim to raise those issues, but would now face a filing fee.

Some lawmakers said they expected to hear objections from their constituents when they learn that the budget deal will increase boat registration fees. The new annual registration fees range from $5.50 for the smallest boats, up from $3.50, to $189.75 for the mega-yachts, up from $122.50 a year ago.

Lawmakers have defended the fee increases, noting that many of the fees have not been increased in years, if not decades.

At the same time, the services those fees pay for - like regulation by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission which uses the boating fees - are under increasing pressure because of the state's expanding population.

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