One thing we must be careful about is assuming that the “stashed” money in the state parks department is actually cash.
We’re focusing, of course, on last week’s revelation that the California Department of Parks and Reclamation has been sitting secretly on $54 million while Gov. Jerry Brown has been threatening to close many state parks.
The good news is that most parks have been kept open, largely due to volunteers and partnerships with private enterprise.
But last week we all got a surprise when state parks director Ruth Coleman abruptly resigned her post, revealing that for more than a decade the parks department hadn’t been reporting certain income to the state Department of Finance.
But we shouldn’t allow ourselves to believe the actual cash from that unreported income is sitting around in a warehouse somewhere.
A similar situation occurred in Madera County last year when the Auditor-Controller’s Office discovered more than $10 million that had been wrongly accounted for. When that news first hit, the Board of Supervisors hoped it meant they would have a bit more cash to work with, especially since last year was one of severe budget-cutting. Alas, that was not the case. The discovery meant some accounting funds would be changed but no actual new cash would be created.
That is because in the arcane world of government accounting, separate track of cash always is kept, and budgeted expenses are paid from that cash. It’s almost impossible to conceal cash in government accounting, unless somebody is stealing it on the spot.
Of course, as in the case of the state parks system, certain cash transactions, such as park entrance fees, can be hidden, either mistakenly or purposefully, through misapplication. In this case, the $54 million in cash wasn’t stolen. It just found its way into other accounts.
In any case, it’s gone. The parks still have their problems. And so does Gov. Brown, because he’ll have to find a way to explain this to the same voters he has been pleading with to pass new taxes to keep the parks open.