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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.

Assemblymember Jared Huffman, who represents 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 just north of Novato have been threatened of 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.

Kevin Moore July 21, 2012 at 06:42 PM
So far, it has been determined that $33 million have come from OHV funds that were misdirected. My guess is almost all of it came from OHV funds, which has been the state dipping well, much like Congress "borrows" (steals) from Social Security. Another guess is the funds were set aside and never used as they were scared that the source of the funds might be revealed in an audit. Much like an unemployed drug dealer trying to explain to the IRS the source of money for a new car that was purchase.
Kevin Moore July 21, 2012 at 06:43 PM
Time for a state wide audit of all departments.
Kevin Johnson July 21, 2012 at 07:59 PM
"Time for a state wide audit of all departments." Maybe so Kev... but those audits cost money too. Probably would spend more on the audits than monies uncovered.
paul goeltz July 21, 2012 at 10:39 PM
hopefully they hid the funds to use on the parks, she might have cared?, not right but..
Kevin Moore July 22, 2012 at 03:24 PM
Audits do cost money, so does fraud. $53 million hidden away. That is half of the shortfall for this year. Carnegie OHV park bought a track of land to expand the park. One reason for not completing the expansion was lack of funds. I am sure the hidden $33 million would have helped pay for it. The OHV fund is funded by registration fees and other taxes.

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