In 2012, the California Parks and Recreation Department hid $20 million and issued improper payouts to employees during a time of major state budget deficits. This off-the-books diversion threatened the closure of several state parks and severely damaged the public’s trust.
As a member of the Joint Committee on Legislative Audit, government transparency has always been a priority for me. This incident made me realize it was all too easy for a state entity to hide substantial funds – funds from taxpayers meant to support, enhance and preserve our state’s treasured parks.
While California parks were continually told there were no funds available, millions of dollars were being hidden, causing many recreation areas to face the possibility of closure. Rather than seeing parks close, passionate individuals across the state formed dozens of organizations to raise money and keep their beloved parks open to the public.
One of those was Save Our River Parks, which raised $65,000 in private funds to keep Merced County’s McConnell and Hatfield state recreation areas open.
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Cindy Lashbrook, East Merced Resource Conservation District associate director and Save Our River Parks member, said she is grateful the community came together to raise the money, but that she definitely would have preferred the funds to be earmarked to improve the parks, educate children, attract tourist dollars and better steward our natural resources.
I wholeheartedly agree. If there is money available for a specific state agency, those funds should not only be transparent to the public, but allocated appropriately. Although this isn’t a reflection of all state departments, one department’s mismanagement of funds created a domino effect that ultimately affected the entire state budget. It caused a great disservice to Californians on many levels. Most important, it obscured the public’s right to know where and how tax dollars are spent.
I think everyone can agree greater government transparency is a good thing.
This is why I have introduced Senate Bill 898 to increase accountability and create greater checks and balances by requiring each state agency, department and entity to provide the treasurer with its employer identification number, as well as authorize the treasurer to use these numbers to monitor state bank accounts and state money that are outside of the State Treasury System.
This legislation will provide greater transparency and fiscal accountability and put in place safeguards to prevent anyone from hiding your taxpayer dollars. Hopefully, that will help restore confidence in our state government.