In a Dec. 5 opinion piece, www.myvalleynews.com/does-the-state-owe-you-money, Assembly member Marie Waldron asked, “Why does California have so much unclaimed property?” The correct answer is: the state wants the money.
The state treats unclaimed property – mostly money – as revenue and puts it in the state’s general fund, where it’s spent. That placement obviously creates a disincentive to return the money, which explains why the state fails to return most of the money it collects.
Look for unclaimed money at the state’s website, whose search capability is hopelessly inadequate, and you’ll find municipalities, schools, businesses, charities and individual taxpayers. The state could easily return their money.
Anyone who finds lost money is ethically and legally obligated to return it to the owner if the owner can be identified. Failure to return such lost money is theft, according to state law, https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/penal-code/pen-sect-485.html. But the state unethically pockets lost money and shifts the burden to the owners to claim it. In effect, the state is embezzling unclaimed money from people, businesses, nonprofits and municipalities.
Other states, like Wisconsin and Illinois, use their taxpayer data to find owners and automatically send out checks, without requiring claims. California should do that.
So here’s my question for Waldron. Why don’t you sponsor legislation to compel the state to make a good faith effort to find rightful owners and return their money, as citizens must do and as ethics demands?