Oh My, Wouldya Look’ee Here at what I Found
July 30, 2012
The State of California government is in some hot water from groups and individuals who donated money to avert a shutdown of some state parks. Seems there was plenty of money after all.
Saying they feel betrayed by the discovery of $54 million hidden in two state parks accounts, a growing number of groups that donated money to keep California state parks from closing this year now say they want a refund — or at least a binding promise from lawmakers to spend the extra money on parks.
Last year, it was announced that the Department of Parks and Recreation was short $30 or so million and that 70 state parks would have to be shut down unless the money was found to operate them. So, many civic groups, individuals, communities, and businesses stepped up to the plate to keep several of the parks open (at least 31, according to this account). Just imagine the donors’ surprise when $54 million showed up from funds that were earmarked for park operations.
The money accumulated over 12 years in two special funds the department uses to collect revenue and pay for operations: $20.4 million in the Parks and Recreation Fund, and $33.5 million in the Off Highway Vehicle Trust Fund.
The money accumulated, state officials said, because the parks department had a pattern of underreporting the actual size of the funds in its regular dealings with the state Department of Finance.
Why and how this occurred remains a mystery and will be the subject of investigations launched Friday by the Department of Finance and the state attorney general’s office…
According to the original article, there isn’t any indication that the money was embezzled or stolen. The (now resigned) State Parks Director is pleading ignorance while her (now fired) assistant is insisting that he repeatedly informed her about the money.
As for me, I suspect that the underreporting originally started in case the budget estimates were off and the department needed money. Anything extra in the account was a buffer in case estimated revenues or whatnot during a budget cycle didn’t work out. Given the propensity of state legislatures to grab anything not tied down (especially nowadays), there’s quite a bit of incentive to hide some ready cash, just in case. Unfortunately, what started as a fiscal buffer quickly grew into a holy-shit-if-we-tell-the-truth-now-we’ll-get-in-trouble situation, so everyone looked the other way until it blew up in their faces.
As always, it’s the cover-up that kills.
Update: A friend has just pointed out that if my theory is correct, not coming clean before watching people start fundraising to save their parks was a greedy, douchey thing to do. Can’t say as I can argue with that.