Too many businesses are keeping the sales taxes you paid

August 18th, 2010 by Staff

TAMPA – Queen of Sheba restaurant in South Tampa is unique in serving traditional Ethiopian cuisine. But they’re like any other business when it comes to collecting sales tax.

Every three months, owner Seble Gizaw goes to the department of revenue in Hillsborough County to turn over your seven percent.

“It’s not my money, so I have to, you know, pay it on time,” she said.

Ms. Gizaw knows the state treasury depends on sales taxes to pay for road repairs, education and medical care for children, seniors and the poor.

Randy Eisenberg of the Florida Department of Revenue has heard all the excuses companies give for not turning over their sales taxes.

“I had to pay my rent. I had to buy inventory, pay my electric bill. I had to pay my employees. It’s not coming out of their pockets. It’s not something that’s costing them. This is money they’ve collected from their customers that they don’t remit,” said Eisenberg.

The State of Florida is owed almost 26 million dollars in unpaid sales tax. Revenues are down because of the weak economy, but the delinquency rate is holding steady at about 18 %.

For the first time this year, the Department of Revenue began posting the names of businesses with the largest delinquent tax bills. They range from tiny bars to multi million dollar companies.

In Hillsborough County, the Ki Ki Ki III lounge on Kennedy Boulevard in Tampa is listed as owing more than $80 thousand dollars in collected sales taxes. The owner declined to discuss it with us.

National Erosion Control in Lakeland, a company with government contracts is shown to owe a whopping $373,000 dollars. The president told us he’s got a lawyer fighting what he calls an incorrect assessment.

In some cases, the Department of Revenue has no way of knowing how much the delinquent company owes in back taxes, so they estimate. Three of the companies we talked to said that estimate was too high.

The popular South Tampa restaurant ‘Cheap’ is listed as owing over $190 thousand dollars in sales tax. They’re disputing the amount, but the owner told us he’s entered the state’s new amnesty program

“This is a good time to get caught up” said revenue consultant, Randy Eisenberg.

Since July 1st, the state has agreed to waive penalties and up to half the interest levied against delinquent companies, but only if they come in voluntarily.

Eisenberg says it’s a win for the State because they get the tax dollars without having to spend resources freezing bank accounts and garnishing assets.

To see the complete list of companies, visit the Florida Department of Revenue Delinquent Taxpayers webpage.

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