KUSA - A Lakewood man says the state of Colorado garnished his state tax refund to pay for a ticket he received more than 20 years ago.

Matt Cohen says he got a letter informing him that $80 of his refund was applied to an old debt, leaving him with less than $5.

The state says the ticket was issued on the Auraria campus way back in May 1990.

"I was 25. I'm 48 now," Cohen said. "Whether or not there's a parking ticket. I have no recollection. It seems really unreasonable.The fact that this suddenly appears suggests to me that the state has more bureaucratic authority over my money than I actually thought they had."

In fact, the state of Colorado can take money directly from personal tax refunds to collect on old debts.

Those debts can include parking tickets, overdue library dues, unpaid tuition or unemployment over-payments.

Colorado's been doing this for 15 years but recently improved its system and started collecting a lot more.

"In November of last year our vendor that runs our collections system was able to do an upgrade to the system that provided us an additional 110,000 social security number in our system," Sabrina D'Agosta, State of Colorado Director of Policy & Communications, said. "The social security numbers then allow us to match up with old debt that we haven't necessarily been able to contact the debtor on. And so by virtue of that we have a lot of old, unpaid debts that we've been able to match up now, and we are seeing some additional debts that are being paid back to the state."

D'Agosta says the new effort is producing an extra one million dollars a month in revenue.

An Auraria spokesperson told 9NEWS Cohen's original ticket was $15, but grew to $80 because of interest, and only after they mailed multiple notices.

Cohen admits to taking classes at the Auraria campus at the time, and to receiving parking tickets. But he says he paid all of the fines.

"I understand the need to collect revenue and I understand the state's need to find outstanding revenue but this seems excessive," Lakewood resident Matt Cohen said.
D'Agosta says the state has a right to collect.

"It's a debt. It's just like any other debt you owe. If you owe something you have to repay it," D'Agosta said. "There isn't a limit on which we can collect debt. It's essentially a lien for [not paying] a debt that's owed to the state. Therefore we are able to offset that from your tax refund."

The Auraria spokesperson says the actual ticket is likely in archives and they are working to get Cohen a copy.