Every year, the state of Florida gives up on money it is owed, and each year the amount seems to grow — to $124.2 million in the fiscal year that ended June 30, according to an Associated Press story looking at recently released data.
A good chunk of it is unpaid taxes, including $15.4 million in sales taxes owned by businesses and $13.4 million in unpaid income taxes from corporations. There was more than $30 million in overpayments to people getting unemployment checks and $14 million in Medicaid overpayments to health care providers.
But what is especially galling is that the state is giving up any hope of collecting nearly $800,000 in fines owed to the Florida Commission on Ethics. When public officials don't have to pay up, it's obvious the system is broken.
You can't say the Ethics Commission hasn't tried. Before this year's legislative session, the commissioners asked legislators for the power to collect fines. They never got it. Then, in May, the commission refused to write off unpaid fines — it had given up on $944,619 in unpaid fines in 2011 — though its legal options were few.
"The Ethics Commission is really not a collection agency," Commissioner Matthew Carlucci said after the decision. "But there needs to be a statute that would give the Ethics Commission teeth in our collection efforts."
One option would be to allow liens on the property of officials who refuse to pay. Carlucci discussed such a bill earlier this year with state Rep. Charles McBurney, R-Jacksonville, who supported the idea.
It's also a good sign that the Legislature's two new leaders, Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, have promised sweeping ethics reform.
It's the least Floridians can expect of their leaders.