Jayson Jacoby
The Baker City Herald

We're trying mightily to muster a shred of sympathy for Oregon state government and its budget mess.

Trying, and in the main failing.

We would likely have more success were the state's lone problem the recession.

It's easy to understand how the government coffers suffer when tens of thousands of the taxpayers who fill the bucket aren't bringing home a paycheck.

But although that's part of the problem, Oregon's troubles run far deeper.

It turns out that state tax collectors failed to compare their data on who owes how much with federal reports of the same sort.

Which seems to us an egregious lapse, considering the IRS has a pretty fair reputation for tracking down dollars.

When Oregon auditors finally had a look at the feds' tax rolls, they

discovered that 66,000 people who altogether owe the state an estimated

$100 million, but who haven't paid a dime.

Let's be clear: These aren't taxpayers the state has been pursuing with the dogged skills of a bounty hunter.

No, Oregon didn't even know these people existed, as far as their tax obligations are concerned.

State Auditor Gary Blackmer figures the state could collect about half the total - $50 million - relatively easily.

That's a tidy sum, amounting to almost 10 percent of the estimated shortfall for the current two-year budget cycle.

Oregon officials estimate the state is owed another $2 billion in tax payments, fees, fines and restitution ordered by judges.

In those cases we concede the state faces difficult, and in some situations insurmountable, obstacles.

For instance, a convicted felon who's serving a life sentence at the

state penitentiary might have trouble earning money to pay off a

$100,000 tab with the state.

Nonetheless, Oregon's record in collecting what it's entitled to is abysmal.

Besides those phantom 60,000 people and their $100 million bill,

private collection agencies say the state's stingy commissions

discourage such companies from offering their services.

Although in general we applaud the state for trying to save money, such

efforts seem downright silly in the case of collecting delinquent taxes

and other payments.

We're confident, at any rate, that any collection agency which is still

in business is far too competent to misplace $100 million.

The state, on the other hand, has proved beyond any doubt that it's time to call in the professionals.

Or the IRS.