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Florida gives up on collecting $124.2 million it's owed

TALLAHASSEE — For the third year in a row, Florida is giving up on collecting more than $100 million in taxes, fees and fines owed the state.

But the amount of money the state is walking away from continues to grow. Data released this past month show that the state forgave $124.2 million in the fiscal year that ended June 30.

Florida in 2011 wrote off $110.5 million as uncollectible, while the number was more than $109 million the year before.

The overall amount of money that Florida is losing is small compared with the size of the state's annual $70 billion budget. But the failure to collect the money comes amid year after year of state budget cuts.

State Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart and the new Senate budget chief, said even though the amount is relatively small he still wants the Legislature to re-examine whether the state is doing enough to collect money it is owed.

"We want to be circumspect and prudent with every dollar we have available to us in the state budget," Negron said. "We'll take a fresh look at that number and see if there is any possibility of reducing that amount."

A large portion — nearly $37 million — written off by state officials was unpaid taxes, including sales taxes, corporate income taxes and unemployment taxes.

A breakdown provided by the Department of Revenue shows that $15.4 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 $13.4 million in unpaid income taxes from corporations.

This year the state also closed the books on trying to collect back nearly $30.7 million that was overpaid to people receiving unemployment compensation checks between 2006 and 2009.

James Miller, a spokesman with the Department of Economic Opportunity, said the amount written off represents just 1.3 percent of the unemployment compensation benefits the state was paying annually.

The names of businesses and residents that owed money to the Department of Revenue and had their tax bills waived are confidential under state law. The names of people who received too much in jobless benefits is also exempt from the state's public records law.

The Agency for Health Care Administration reported that it waived collection of nearly $14 million in overpayments to more than 100 health care providers treating Medicaid patients.

Still, agency spokeswoman Shelisha Coleman said if a provider files for reimbursement of a new claim then the agency can place a lien on that claim in order to recover the overpayment.

But Coleman said in most cases collections are unsuccessful because either someone is dead or in jail, or the company is dissolved or has filed for bankruptcy.

This year's total includes nearly $800,000 in fines owed to the Florida Commission on Ethics by public officials and others. Republican legislative leaders have said they may enact measures to make it harder for elected officials to refuse to pay the fines.

Florida gives up on collecting $124.2 million it's owed 12/24/12 [Last modified: Monday, December 24, 2012 9:51pm]
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