Everyone wants a piece of state park surplus

July 24, 2012 7:11:42 PM PDT
The scandal over money from California's park system takes a new twist tonight. Several state agencies are now fighting over millions of surplus dollars that were kept secret for more than a decade. A surplus is unheard of in these tight budget times and now everyone wants a slice of the pie.

California's state park system is still reeling from Friday's scandal when administrators revealed $54 million had been found sitting in an account undetected for the last 12 years. Supporters just spent the last year raising money to save 70 parks from closing due to budget cuts. The surplus now is touching off a money grab because the parks department doesn't necessarily get to keep the money.

"No department gets to keep, technically gets to keep any of this money. These are taxpayer funds and ultimately, it is the decision of the Legislature on how the money is to be spent," said Richard Stapler from the California Resources Agency.

About $33.5 million is in the Off Highway Vehicle Trust Fund, which is not supposed to be spent on anything else, but the Legislature is known to raid all accounts no matter what it's for. The other $20 million, or more, could be re-allocated for any purpose. Supporters say parks should get to keep their stash because some locations have only enough donations to stay open for a few more weeks, plus all 278 parks could use some help.

"The Department of Parks has been cut on a state level for the last 30 years. It is basically operating on a bare-bones budget. There's a backlog of maintenance work of $1.3 billion?and they should be able to keep the money," said Jim Metropulos from Sierra Club.

But every year during the Great Recession, state programs had to endure deep budget cuts.

"If they haven't used it in 12 years, it should go to other services that have received the most cuts recently, like the welfare service, childcare, healthcare," said Collette Tiemeyer, a supporter of social services.

And college students who've seen tuition skyrocket say don't forget about them.

"Why spend all the $54 million in the park when you can do it separately. Put some in the park, maybe put some of it here for financial aid," said Isaiah Salinas, a community college student.

Gov. Jerry Brown's office hopes lawmakers will agree to use some of that surplus for parks, but Democratic leaders have always said they'd restore some of the social services whenever there was extra money.


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