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State says it's too early to judge collection efforts

As of mid-2016, the state was owed about $3.3 billion in unpaid taxes, fees and fines.

CAPITAL BUREAU - State revenue officials say it's too early to tell if increased efforts to collect money owed to the state are paying off.SALEM — Five months after Gov. Kate Brown ordered the state to shore up its debt collection practices, the revenue department says it's too early to tell how much money it's brought in as a result.

As of mid-2016, the state was owed about $3.3 billion in unpaid taxes, fees and fines, according to a December analysis by the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Office.

About $600 million to $800 million of that sum is owed to the state's general fund, and 95 percent of that is unpaid taxes, the Governor's Office said in April.

The governor also ordered other state agencies to report the money they're owed to the state's Chief Operating Officer, as well as how much of it is collectible.

As Oregon lawmakers scrambled to balance the state's budget this legislative session, they too renewed efforts to collect some of that money, pushing for more oversight and hiring at the Department of Revenue.

Although it can't say whether the governor's executive order has made an impact, the revenue department is preparing to implement a system that allows state agencies to determine whether vendors owe the state money, said spokeswoman Joy Krawczyk.

Using that system, the revenue department can garnish payments to vendors to cover the debt.

DOR is piloting the system with the Oregon Department of Transportation. At first, the focus will be on tax debt. If it's successful, the department will use it when it helps collect debt on behalf of other state and local agencies.

The revenue department — which is expected to collect more than $20 billion in revenue in the next two years — has been plagued with issues in the past decade, many of them identified by multiple audits.

At the urging of the Legislature, the department is expected to undergo additional external and internal reviews in the near future.

Krawczyk says the department has met the reporting requirements laid out in Brown's executive order, and is working on a report about whether it's feasible to publicly post information about the state's debtors online, as the governor has called for.

The agency is also working to recruit for and fill vacant positions, according to director Nia Ray.

State agencies, under another bill passed this session, are now required to report debt they write off to the Department of Administrative Services by Dec. 31 every year.