State of Oregon owed $3 billion by you

Oregon State Sen. Doug Whitsett, March 2014 (KOIN 6 News)
Oregon State Sen. Doug Whitsett, March 2014 (KOIN 6 News)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The state of Oregon is owed $3 billion that it hasn’t collected from taxpayers, and it appears the problem is getting worse and costing everyone in the state.

Income taxes, parking tickets, court fines — it adds up to $3 billion the state should have but doesn’t.

The Department of Revenue is responsible for collecting debts. The owed money could ease the burden on taxpayers or pay for better services.

Sen. Doug Whitsett said state collectors simply aren’t doing a good enough job.

“To the extent that we are better able to collect our past due accounts we should be able to equally reduce the cost to the taxpayer,” he told KOIN 6 News. “We have the same people applying the same old methods that don’t work very well.”

Since all state agencies began reporting in 2001, the state’s uncollected debts have almost tripled from just over $1 billion to more than $3 billion. The two agencies affected the most are the Judicial Department and the Department of Revenue.

The Judicial Department was owed $1,391, 981, 298 — mostly for court fines and restitution.
The Department of Revenue was owed $738,268,631 — mostly for unpaid taxes.

That accounts for about 70% of what is owed to the state of Oregon.

“I don’t believe there has been a concerted effort to really address the debt, and it’s sort of grown like a mushroom,” Whitsett said.

He proposes giving more of the past due accounts sooner to private collectors.

Bob Estabrook with the Oregon Department of Revenue said they “have a good relationship with our private collection firms to recognize there are some different approaches that we use versus what they use to collect debt.”

Last month, that relationship was part of a legislative committee meeting. Whitsett was clearly unimpressed with the department’s lack of a plan.

“I didn’t here (a plan) in the report,” he told KOIN 6 News. “Their time is running out for 2015.”

Estabrook chose to look at the bigger picture when he was asked if taxpayers should think debt collection will become more successful.

“I think it’s important to — even though it’s a large number — not get caught up in a big marquee number when you’re talking about a lot of business that is transacted throughout the state every single year.”

The Department of Revenue is undergoing a technology upgrade that will help them better organize the debt. That, they said, will help them collect more money.

Whitsett, though, wants private collectors and the DOR to work on a solution.

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