State parks hoarded $54 million, claimed budget shortfall

July 21, 2012

The director of California’s state parks resigned and a deputy was fired Friday following the discovery the  department had stashed away nearly $54 million in surplus money while parks were threatened with closures because of budget cuts.

While the under-reported cash remained untapped, the California Department of Parks and Recreation claiming dire financial health was soliciting donations slated to help keep some of the to state parks scheduled for closure open, including Morro Strand State Beach campground in San Luis Obispo County.

A preliminary investigation into Parks’ finances has revealed that for at least 12 years the department underreported tens of millions of dollars to the state Department of Finance. As a result, the Department of Finance was not aware that the State Parks and Recreation Fund and the Off Highway Vehicle Fund held $20,378,000 and $33,492,000 respectively above their official, most recently reported balances. The underreporting occurred over the course of two prior gubernatorial administrations.

Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. asked the state Attorney General’s Office to investigate the circumstances surrounding the underreporting by the parks system that dates back to at least 2000. Governor Brown has also directed the state Department of Finance to conduct a comprehensive audit of Parks’ fiscal controls and the California Natural Resources Agency Secretary John Laird to conduct a sweeping review of Parks’ management.

“I welcome Governor Brown’s swift action to address these hidden assets,” Laird said. “We will get to the bottom of this situation and work with the Attorney General, the Legislature and the Department of Finance to make sure nothing like this ever happens again. We will also work with the Legislature to see how this money can be used to mitigate park closures.”

Governor Brown has accepted the resignation of Parks Director Ruth Coleman and Chief Deputy Michael Harris was fired.

Governor Brown appointed California Natural Resources Agency Undersecretary Janelle Beland  as acting interim director of Parks. He has directed her to promptly report to him and Secretary Laird on further actions that should be taken to ensure that the Department is being managed with honesty, accountability and transparency, according to a press release.

In addition to their audit of Parks, the Department of Finance is reviewing all special funds across state government to verify that departments have provided identical fiscal information to Finance and the Controller. The Department of Finance has also put new protocols in place to strengthen how special fund figures are verified and reconciled with data from the Controller and other sources.

The State Parks and Recreation Fund was established in 1979. Its sources of revenue are fees, rentals and returns collected for the use of any state park system area. It can be used for resource management and protection, planning, acquisition and development projects.

The Off-Highway Vehicle Trust Fund was established in 1971. Its sources of revenues are off-highway vehicle registration fees, transfer fees, penalties, fines and forfeitures. It can only be used for acquisitions, development, construction, maintenance, administration and conservation of areas for the use of off-highway motor vehicles.

The hidden assets were brought to light when new Parks fiscal staff began an internal review of accounts, following a separate investigation by the Attorney General over unauthorized vacation buy-outs.


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The Gimlet Eye

I told you! See again:


US: ‘Thrive’ filmmaker Foster Gamble explains how governments at all levels operate on two sets of books: one for the public and one for insiders. [The public books deal with budgeted operations and show revenue from taxes and fines. The confidential books relate to a ‘hush-hush’ fund that derives revenue from investments. Most of these hidden funds are awash in money while the governments that own them are pretending to be broke.] YouTube 2012 Jul 6



bobfromsanluis

As long as some audits are being called for, how about auditing the entire UC and CSU system? How many layers of bureaucracy is in there, I wonder? A full accounting with a report that is made completely public so we can see if there is indeed taxpayer funded parties, retreats and other perks that would make most taxpayers’ hair stand on end; or, just maybe (but highly doubtful) all of the monies that flows to the UC and CSU system is being spent just as it is supposed to be. It would be nice to know for sure.


Mr. Holly

Maybe an audit of the state is in order. I wonder how many other agencies have a “surplus” of funds? Or as some people refer to it as “free money.” The state may not be in as bad as shape as they are telling us. It appears that Sacramento is out of the loop and really has no idea of what is going on.

No tax increase for me when there is a surplus of funds. All we need to do now is get rid of the surplus of benefits and the beauracats that have got us into this mess.


oceanoguy

Who is this “1” person who dislikes this comment? Do you really have faith in the government of CA and think we should pay more taxes with this kind of thievery going on?


Kevin Rice

It’s great to see “Ruthless” Coleman OUT THE DOOR!


Laird was aware of the money, but as you can see, he’s letting others take the fall. Close call for Laird.


Hopefully, we can get good people in and use the money we have paid in for its proper purpose now. It’s likely the Legislature will steal it, though, just like they’ve done many times.


flytrap

Totally dishonest and unbelievable. However, it does prove two things. 1) It is possible for a government agency to save money and still provide reasonable services, which should be returned to the tax payer.

2) The second thing it proves is that if money is saved by a government agency, it is so exceptional that the parks department bosses felt that it must be hidden from the bottomless pit of state government.

Others out there?


taxpayer

And these people want us to give them even more tax dollars to mismanage in November. Just say no to all tax increases.


As the world turns

I am sure it is all one big misunderstanding. The administrators were saving money to make sure sufficient retirement funds would be available for them. It is important that they be able to retire on $100,000+ and fully-paid health benefits.


Nancimeek

I told you several months ago EVERYONE is under the microscope relative to California Government including the SLO DA”S office and the FBI and the IRS. The police are being policed! Told you!


As the world turns

And what is your point? That we are a police state, or that investigators are doing their job?


doggin

But, but,but….California is a Blue state……you know the honest fiscally responsible ones.


TacomaRose

You read something like this and think to yourself, “unbelievable.”


But the truth is that their are so many dishonest administrators both on the state and local levels. They cheat, charm and decieve their way to the top and once there they continue to work their magic and ultimately do massive harm to the populace. And all the while they suck up all of the gravy and then point to the employees at the bottom of the ladder and blame them for the perceived finacial woes.


We certainly have our share right here in San Luis County. Some have been shown the door, people like Edge, Wilcox, Soloman for instance but their are so many still entrenched in their kingdoms.


Lets ask ourselves ….When does the BS stop?


photocal

Tacomarose rose……… The BS will stop when We vote out all incumbants regardless of party, or time in office. Also………We hould reject any tax increase State, or local. Hope good things happen in November.


As the world turns

photocal, It seems when the incumbents are voted out, the new politicians become as bad, if not worse. Think of all the local politicians who ran on positions of “cleaning up city hall (or county government)” and “getting rid of the dead weight” Once they become part of the system, they assimilate. There is a “culture” of corruption, whether financial or ethical, that needs to be addressed.


The Gimlet Eye

An excellent point. What can we do about it? Clearly, doing nothing is not an alternative. That road lead to disaster. Then what? I’m thinking that the whole system is literally too big to manage, at least in the way that we would like.


In any case, being a Libertarian, I’m in favor of a radical roll back in government ON ALL FRONTS. This skullduggery of “hiding” the taxpayers money is just one more fact in a long line that government as we know it is a failure.


Question: why should the STATE be involved in park management at all? Is that really necessary? Roll back the state and let the counties manage them. That solution is not perfect, but it’s better than having Sacramento do it. The closer to home the managers are, the more easily that local people can control them.


Remember that word, control. Instead of letting the politicians control YOU, you have to control the politicians.


MaryMalone

There are a few things that politicians pay attention to.


One of them is when the voters refuse to approve tax increases or any new funding measure. That is a giant wake-up call.


The other wake-up call is when politicians who have not performed as they promised they would in the previous election are voted out of office.


Finally, when voters become apathetic–this is the strongest wakeup call there is, because if voters simply don’t bother to vote, politicians know that the voters are on to the the game they have made voting, and refuse to participate in it any longer.


Slowerfaster

You’re kidding, right ? It’s the power-mongers that want people not to vote…the ones that try to disenfranchise people from voting.


How many kings, queens, and other potentates ever got elected to their positions ?


ZERO.


You advocate forfeiting, which is the same thing as a loss.


pasowino

“But the truth is that their are so many dishonest administrators both on the state and local levels”…and corporations, and small businesses, and churches, etc, etc.


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