But it turns out, that $120 million figure is rather suspect. Most of it — some $76 million — is owed to the county courts but the vast majority of that is restitution money that must be repaid over time to victims of crimes, explains Dave Ehlinger, Fiscal Operations Administrator for the courts. In short, the state can’t get its hands on this debt to fund a new NBA arena.
Another big chunk of the $76 million is money the state already collects. (The county largely operates not as an independent government, but as the local administrator of state programs.) And by the way, when the state does collect debt, it finds that about 11 percent of debt is uncollectible, Ehlinger notes, because the party may not pay Wisconsin taxes, has moved out of state, can’t be traced because the Social Security number isn’t correct or for other reasons.
In response to a request from Milwaukee County Comptroller Scott Manske, Ehlinger prepared a huge, 13-page analysis of the courts’ out standing debts (going back 20 years) with colored charts by which he concludes that the amount of uncollected debt the state could likely collect is about $100,000 per year, or less than $2 million over 20 years.