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Should it have never been in danger of closing?

Should it have never been in danger of closing?

Two secret stashes totaling  $53 million at the California Department of Parks and Recreation have come to light this week, prompting an investigation by the state’s attorney general, the Friday morning resignation of parks director Ruth Coleman and questions about whether the money might have averted the closure of 70 state parks due to budget cuts.

The Sacramento Bee reported news of the scandal this morning. In an afternoon press conference call plagued by technical problems, Natural Resources Secretary John Laird said the money—$20 million in the State Parks and Recreation Fund and $33 million in the Off-Highway Vehicle Fund—had been accumulating for 12 years, and that the parks department had been underreporting it to the Department of Finance. A recently appointed deputy director of parks administration, Aaron Robertson, discovered the discrepancy.

The situation begs the question of whether the money could have prevented parks closures. In May the Natural Resources Agency released a list of 70 state parks to be closed in order to save $22 million. Most of those parks have actually remained open to some degree, thanks to civic organizations like Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks that stepped up to operate the parks, if only on a limited or temporary basis.

Asked if the money could have averted the closures, Laird replied, “That’s still a question. But this is deeply disappointing, because we just went to many partners around the state to get them to step up and cover the shortfall.”He said, though, that the newly discovered money could possibly go to those 70 parks.

He added that deferred maintenance  for the parks department is estimated at $1.2 billion (with a “b”), suggesting that the $53 million, while not insignificant, would not have solved all the department’s troubles.

Laird said he had only learned about the scandal “in the last 48 hours” and stressed the administration’s decision to make the information public even though few details are available. Reports say it wasn’t clear what the two funds were planning to do with the money.

Today’s disclosure comes on the heels of another scandal at the parks department revealed last week by the Bee. A senior official, who's since resigned, was offering employees a secret vacation buyout program. It cost the department $270,000 in the midst of a serious budget crisis.

  • http://www.santacruz.com/news/scandal_at_state_parks_department.html Don Honda

    This is nothing.  DMV/CHP had an excess $500 Million in funds.  It was just raided for $432 Million by Gov. Brown to put into the General Fund.  I have this verified by email from a State Finance Officer.  It sure could have fixed alotta roads!

  • http://www.santacruz.com/news/2012/07/20/scandal_at_state_parks_department Don Honda

    This is nothing.  DMV/CHP had an excess $500 Million in funds.  It was just raided for $432 Million by Gov. Brown to put into the General Fund.  I have this verified by email from a State Finance Officer.  It sure could have fixed alotta roads!

  • http://www.santacruz.com/news/scandal_at_state_parks_department.html Don Honda

    Response:  The Motor Vehicle Account is used primarily for state operations of the Department of Motor Vehicles and the California Highway Patrol.  The fund condition published in the Governor’s Budget did show a $500 million fund balance.  The May Revision proposed a $300 million loan from the MVA to the General Fund.  In addition, the budget passed by the Legislature increased the loan to $432.2 million, which will result in a fund balance of $109 million.  The budget requires repayment of the loans by June 30, 2016.

  • http://www.santacruz.com/news/2012/07/20/scandal_at_state_parks_department Don Honda

    Response:  The Motor Vehicle Account is used primarily for state operations of the Department of Motor Vehicles and the California Highway Patrol.  The fund condition published in the Governor’s Budget did show a $500 million fund balance.  The May Revision proposed a $300 million loan from the MVA to the General Fund.  In addition, the budget passed by the Legislature increased the loan to $432.2 million, which will result in a fund balance of $109 million.  The budget requires repayment of the loans by June 30, 2016.