Florida forgave $124.2 million in taxes, fines this year
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. And the amount of money the state is walking away from continues to grow. Data released this past month shows the state forgave $124.2 million in the fiscal year that ended June 30. Florida in 2011 wrote off $110.5 million as uncollectable, while the number was more than $109 million the year before. The overall amount of money Florida is losing is small compared with the size of the state's $70 billion annual 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 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 — almost $37 million — that was 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 $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 gave up trying to recover nearly $30.7 million that was overpaid to people receiving unemployment compensation checks. These overpayments were made between 2006 and 2009 when the state's jobless rate was rising. James Miller, a spokesman with the Department of Economic Opportunity, said the amount of money written off represents 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 public records law. The Agency for Health Care Administration reported it waived collection of nearly $14 million that the state overpaid to more than 100 health care providers treating patients in the state's Medicaid program. Shelisha Coleman, a spokeswoman for the agency, however, said that even though the debt has been forgiven, "The agency will continue to try to recoup taxpayer dollars." This year's total amount being waived also includes almost $800,000 in fines owed to the Florida Commission on Ethics by public officials and others. Republican legislative leaders have already said they may enact new measures in the coming year that make it harder for elected officials to refuse to pay the fines.