TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) _ Despite a long-running budget crunch, Florida is giving up on collecting tens of millions in taxes, fees and fines owed the state.
The state annually collects $37 billion in taxes and fees so $109 million is a relatively small amount but state lawmakers this past year were confronted with a nearly $4 billion budget gap.
Some have suggested cracking down on those who refuse to pay up. A state panel responsible for keeping watch on the state's election laws wants scofflaws blocked from being able to campaign for office if they have unpaid fines.
More than half of the money written off last year by state officials was unpaid taxes, including sales taxes, corporate income taxes and unemployment compensation taxes. The Department of Revenue in 2010 reported that it waived $58.6 million it was unable to collect.
Renee Watters, a spokeswoman for the department, said the state agency follows the law and makes every effort to try to collect the tax, but that at some point it has to be written off.
She said keeping the unpaid taxes on the books would “not only overstate the state financial position but prevent the department from focusing efforts and resources on active (accounts) and potentially expending resources pursuing stale uncollectible debts.''
Watters also added that most of those who had their taxes waived were no longer in business. Up until last year the state could place a property lien on those with unpaid unemployment compensation taxes for five years. State legislators extended the period from five years to ten years.
The names of taxpayers who had their bills waived are kept confidential by the state.
But some who owed fines to others state agencies are not.
The Department of Environmental Protection last year waived $9.45 million worth of fees that ranged from someone who owed $340 in fees for using the Wakulla Springs lodge to tens of thousands in penalties and fines for oil and chemical spills and improper development work.
DEP reported many of the people on its list could not be found, or it was a business that had gone bankrupt.
Yet the list of those who had their debts forgiven by the state included the South Florida Water Management District, Pinellas County and the city of Daytona Beach. Pinellas County, for example, owed the state more than $60,000 for a debt going back 20 years. The water district owed the state more than $40,000 for lab services that department officials determined was too old to collect.
Dee Ann Miller, a spokeswoman for DEP, said that the agency had spent most of the last two years trying to “clean up'' its records. She said that this year the agency waived $2.6 million and that the amount would likely be considerably less in the coming year.
Some of those who owed money to state received benefits or services.
The Department of Health waived $2.75 million owed for medical services performed at county health departments across the state. Some of the bills had been unpaid for as long as four years.
The Agency for Workforce Innovation last year waived $14.55 million it was owed. The agency said this turned out to be benefits that were overpaid to unemployed workers. Depending on whether the case involves fraud the debt is written off after three years or five years.
“The agency takes the issue of overpayments very seriously and we believe that even one single dollar of taxpayer funds paid in error is one too many,'' said Robby Cunningham, a spokesman for the agency.