Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer has disputed a contention by Controller Steve Westly that could have forced several nonprofit groups to return $15.5 million earmarked for parks and other local projects in 2000 and 2001.
In a report issued in September, Westly pointed to a state law suggesting that the Legislature appropriates money for three-year periods, and that the cash must be returned to the state if it’s not spent within that period. Westly’s report said the Legislature had given $15.5 million to an array of pet projects in 2001-02 that was not spent in time.
California Department of Parks and Recreation officials had disputed Westly’s contention and warned that if his interpretation was correct, scores of other recipients of state money would be forced to refund millions more.
Lockyer sided with the parks department in a Jan. 5 letter obtained by The Times on Wednesday. He said the organizations have five years in which to spend their grants.
“It appears that historically, state agencies have operated in a manner consistent with this interpretation and that the Legislature has taken no action to alter this practice,” Lockyer’s letter said.
Westly spokesman Garin Casaleggio said the controller’s attorneys had been relying on a 1979 attorney general’s opinion, and that the letter issued by Lockyer clarified the issue.
“We welcome the clarification and will abide by it,” Casaleggio said.
Westly had called for the $15.5-million refund as he announced that his auditors were embarking on a financial review of 20 projects that received grants at the start of the decade, when the state was flush with money. Those audits are continuing.