House panel discusses business-fee hike proposal with Commerce

TAX DISCUSSION: Commerce Secretary Mark Rabauliman, second right, background, responds to a question from Rep. Tina Sablan, second left, background, during the House Ways and Means Committee meeting in the speaker’s conference room on Tuesday.  Emmanuel T. Erediano/For The Guam Daily Post

SAIPAN – The House Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday discussed with Department of Commerce officials a measure to increase the fees imposed on businesses in the Commonwealth.

House Bill 21-19 was introduced by Rep. Joseph Leepan T. Guerrero. (http://www.cnmileg.gov.mp/documents/house/hse_bills/21/HB21-019.pdf)

During the committee hearing presided over by Ways and Means Chairman Ivan A. Blanco, Commerce Secretary Mark Rabauliman and Registrar of Corporations Edward “Tofila” Deleon Guerrero fielded questions from the committee members including Rep. Tina Sablan of the minority bloc.

Rabauliman reiterated Commerce’s support for H.B. 21-19.

He told the committee that the higher fees will enable the Office of the registrar of corporations to meet its goals with the use of technology. These goals include a comprehensive data system for a statistical and internal process program; an online portal that will help businesses file, search and order business records; a more efficient central system readily accessible to the Registrar of Corporations; an automated paper-based process that will allow businesses to file and request copies of records 24 hours a day and seven days a week; a new vehicle; and scanning documents for online availability.

Rabauliman said the registrar of corporations has over 2 million documents that need to be scanned into an electronic system. Right now, he said, the department’s data system allows researchers to see only business names, officers and annual reports.

“We do not have the capacity to run certain reports such as the number of corporations registered, names of officers listed for corporations, missing annual reports, business activities, dates on when a corporation was registered, etc. When the department receives requests for reports, we rely on our IT manager to compile these data; therefore, it takes time for these reports to be generated,” Rabauliman said.

To better provide transparency and services to consumers, and to better respond to their annual filings and inquiries, the Commerce secretary said he respectfully requests the committee to endorse the passage of H.B. 21-19.

In her written comment, Saipan Chamber of Commerce President Velma Palacios, expressed the group’s opposition to the bill, saying that the proposed new fees are twice to five times higher than Guam’s.

She said raising fees for proposed filings will discourage entrepreneurship. While larger organizations can absorb the increases, the fee hikes will negatively affect small businesses, she added.

“The business sector is still recovering from Typhoon Yutu, and tourism has declined. ... Organizations and entrepreneurs are utilizing their resources to help their businesses recover and employ our residents — the business sector is not in a position to endure fee increases in this current economy,” Palacios added.