New investigation into hidden California parks fund"/>
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New investigation into hidden California parks fund

Published: Thursday, August 9, 2012

Updated: Thursday, August 9, 2012 15:08

 

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - California lawmakers ordered an accelerated audit of the
embattled parks department on Wednesday, adding to a growing list of probes
examining state finances in the wake of an accounting scandal.

The review, to be conducted by the state auditor, will examine a hidden $54
million surplus discovered in parks accounts last month and an unauthorized
program allowing employees to trade in unused vacation time for more than
$271,000 in cash.

"It's a victory for transparency in state government," said Assemblywoman Beth
Gaines, R-Rocklin, part of a bipartisan group of lawmakers who had pushed for
the audit.

The parks money, which had been stashed away for at least a dozen years, was
found as the state was soliciting donations to keep as many as 70 parks open
amid a budget crisis. Some local governments that forked over money to keep
parks open have demanded it back, and lawmakers are concerned that the
accounting scandal will create a rift between the state and a community of
parks supporters.

"This is a disaster for our efforts to build partnerships and create
strategies to support our state parks," said Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San
Rafael. "There's only one way to fix it, and that is to act as quickly as
possible to restore public trust and confidence."

The audit requested by a legislative committee Wednesday could take months and
cost nearly $300,000, according to the state auditor, plus the price of travel
and the possible hiring of an outside consultant. Lawmakers want the bulk of
the review finished by January, when they'll begin discussing the next state
budget.

Other investigations are also under way, including one by Gov. Jerry Brown's
administration and one by the state attorney general. Administration officials
have examined how they account for more than 500 special funds, like the ones
that held the parks money, which are created to support specific programs and
are financed with taxes and fees.

They said their review showed no other agencies hiding cash like the parks
department. But it identified $232.6 million in other money that went
unreported to lawmakers and administration officials while they were hashing
out the budget. Officials blamed those discrepancies on such errors as typos,
miscalculations and omissions.

Another legislative hearing, by the Assembly Budget Committee, is scheduled
for Thursday on how the state manages the special funds. The Senate is
expected to do its own review next week.

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