TALLAHASSEE -- For the second year in a row, Florida is giving up on collecting more than $100 million in taxes, fees and fines owed the state.
Last year Florida wrote off more than $109 million as uncollectable. But new data collected by a state agency shows that the state forgave $110.5 million for the fiscal year that ended June 30 despite a budget shortfall.
A large portion written off by state officials was unpaid taxes, including sales taxes, corporate income taxes and unemployment taxes owed by businesses.
But this year the state also closed the books on $27.5 million owed to the Department of Juvenile Justice. An agency spokesman said the money was owed by parents who had children in state supervision. Courts order parents to pay the fines, but the state must forgive the debt if it is not paid within four years.
“We pursue money owed to us as diligently as possible within the law,” said C.J. Drake.
This year’s total also includes nearly $190,000 in fines owed to the Florida Commission on Ethics by public officials and others who failed to file financial disclosure forms.
Senate budget chief J.D. Alexander said Friday that he’s not sure that legislators are fully aware of how much money the state is writing off on an annual basis. But he said that was one reason lawmakers in 2010 ordered agencies to start providing the information. The data is collected and forwarded to both the Florida Legislature and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater.
But Alexander, R-Lake Wales, said the more than $200 million in debts forgiven over two years deserves “extra scrutiny” to make sure state agencies are doing everything they can to collect money owed to the state.
“We’ll be taking a look at it,” Alexander said.
The state annually collects $37 billion in taxes and fees, so $110.5 million is a relatively small amount. However, state lawmakers this past year were confronted with a nearly $4 billion budget gap. Next year’s gap could be as much as $2 billion and will likely trigger more budget cuts and even layoffs of state employees.
The Department of Revenue reported forgiving the largest amount of debts during the state budget year that ended on June 30. The agency said it was forced to write off nearly $36 million.
A breakdown provided by DOR shows that nearly $18.5 million that was forgiven was sales taxes owed by businesses. Stores and other businesses are required to collect and then hand over the state’s 6 percent sales tax. The agency also forgave $10.5 million in unpaid unemployment compensation taxes from companies. These are the taxes that are used to help pay for benefits to out-of-work Floridians.
The names of taxpayers who owed money to the Department of Revenue and had their tax bills waived are kept confidential by the state.