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Stiffing the State

Pete Springer/OPB

The math is irresistible. On one side of the ledger there’s the $562 million hole that the state is facing this year, combined with the looming $2-plus billion chasm in the next biennium — budget gaps serious enough that the governor has called for 9 percent across-the-board cuts to all state agencies. On the other side of the ledger is a similarly huge number — about $2 billion — that’s owed to the state by various tax evaders, fee avoiders, fine ignorers, and general scofflaws. Why not just collect that $2 billion, the thinking goes, and solve most of our massive budget problems overnight? If only it were that easy.

Some of the taxes are owed by companies that no longer exist. Some of the fines are owed by incarcerated felons who have no assets or income. And sometimes the tax liabilities are erased by bankruptcy.

The state’s Department of Revenue has argued that they could benefit from newer technology to better find and target the debtors who actually have money in their pockets. But given the current budget mess, expensive new computers might not be coming any time soon. And looking more broadly, how much less money can you collect if you have 10 percent less money to spend to collect it?

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and some people are pushing for Oregon to publish the names of the most egregious tax cheats. Washington already does it, as does California. Another possibility is to loosen restrictions on private collection agencies working for the state.

Are there other ways the state could collect the various monies that are owed it?

Do you owe the state money — for income taxes, speeding tickets, or court-ordered payments? What’s preventing you from paying? What would convince you to pay?


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