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Huffman Shocked About State Parks' Massive Surplus

Uncovered by the Sacramento Bee, the windfall of $54 million comes at a time when the state was desperate to keep its state parks open.

Assemblyman Jared Huffman, who represents Mill Valley and all of Marin in the state Legislature, said in a statement that it was "troubling and frustrating" to hear that California State Parks officials secretly withheld $54 million in state funds.  

The Sacramento Bee reported Friday that State Parks Director Ruth Coleman resigned and her deputy was fired after officials learned the department has been sitting on nearly $54 million in surplus money for as long as 12 years. State Parks carried out a secret vacation buyout program for employees at department headquarters last year, costing the state more than $271,000, the Bee reported.

Huffman (D-San Rafael), who chairs the Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee and also serves as co-chair of the Legislative Environmental Caucus, said he was shocked at the revelation. State parks such as and  just north of Novato, among others, have been threatened with closure because of state budget problems.

"(It comes) at a time when my colleagues and I, along with hundreds of California residents, have worked diligently over the past few years to scrape up enough funds and resources to help save 70 state parks from closure due to budget cuts," he said. "While many of these state parks have since been saved, it is only temporary relief as we continue to secure a more sustainable funding stream.

"I find it shocking that $54 million in state funds were kept off the books over the past several years, when we’ve been told several times by State Parks officials during budget negotiations that the funding wasn’t there to keep all of our parks functioning."

Huffman, who represents the 6th Assembly District, which encompasses southern Sonoma County and all of Marin, has repeatedly expressed concern about the lack of transparency and the "fortress mentality" at State Parks.

"The only good news I can see from this scandal is that it will bring much-needed transparency, accountability, and a serious ‘reset’ to an agency that desperately needs it," he said. "One thing that’s clear from this scandal is the state has the duty to keep every park open while we clean house at State Parks and resolve problems.

Huffman said he would work with Gov. Jerry Brown and and state Natural Resources Agency Secretary John Laird on the changes that are going to be necessary to restore public trust and confidence in state parks management and operations.

Brown appointed a replacement for Coleman on Friday.

 

jabberwolf July 21, 2012 at 02:29 PM
Hmm Maybe they they were sitting on it because they knew there might be a rainy day where parks might have to close.. or ther might be a giant wild fire like in the past? Thank heavens the government found it and now can spend and waste more money... and not prepare for any emergency need. Just spend more than you have and hope that nothing bad will ever happen!!! ( Imagine how good of shape we'd all be in in most agenecies stashed away cash) !!
markA July 21, 2012 at 03:01 PM
Hey jabber.. The article says the fund was for vacation buy back for headquarters staff, not as a contingency for emergency. This buy back thing is a good example of bad policy. Vacation should be used or forfeited, like in private industry. Buy back plans allow emps to inflate their pensions at our expense.
Scott July 21, 2012 at 04:57 PM
No one is upset the state's finances are so screwed up a department can hide huge sums of money like this? Shouldn't all departments roll up their accounts and statements to the state level? And don't the audit their books? This could never legally happen at a public company because there's control from the top, they're required to have their books independantly audited and they have to deal with Sarbanes Oxley. Why isn't John Chaing, head of the controllers office on the hot seat?
Rico July 21, 2012 at 05:07 PM
And I remember when the State was talking about closing Mt. Tam State park, and selling a concession to Lagunitas brewing company to run Samuel P. Taylor park and turn into a privatized beer garden. Once again, officials colluded to try and loot our publicly owned parks and give it to private corporations.. I'm very happy that these people got busted and booted out, good riddance !
Dr. Barbara Reitz July 21, 2012 at 05:28 PM
Mr. Jabberwolf thinks it is ok for State Parks Agency to hide money? Our money? To pay themselves vacation buy backs? Are you kidding? It just dumbfounds me that there is a way to do that without any checks and balances.

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