California lawmakers probe parks department, special funds


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One day after California lawmakers asked for an independent audit of the parks department, the Assembly Budget Committee is set to meet Thursday to examine how the state accounts for more than 500 ‘special’ funds.

These special funds, which are created to help pay for specific programs and make use of taxes and fees, are a more obscure area of the state budget but have received increasing scrutiny in the last month, starting when officials found a $54-million hidden surplus stashed in two accounts at the parks department.


Officials in Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration said their ensuing review of the special funds did not find any similar situations in which money was hidden. However, it did find $232.6 million that went unreported to lawmakers and administration officials while they were hashing out the state budget. Officials blamed errors, including typos, miscalculations and omissions.

Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield (D-Woodland Hills), the committee’s chairman, said Thursday’s hearing will ‘separate fact from fiction’ and examine if the money could have been used in the budget if lawmakers knew about it.

The Senate is scheduled to hold its own hearing next week.

On Wednesday, lawmakers told the state auditor to prioritize a probe into the parks department in hopes of getting more information by January, when they’ll start to discuss the next state budget. The full story on the audit ran in Thursday’s Los Angeles Times.

‘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.


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-- Chris Megerian in Sacramento