Politics

$2 Billion In California Taxpayer Money In Special Funds

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CBS13/AP) — More than $2 billion in California taxpayer money is apparently stashed in more than 500 special funds shielded from the Department of Finance, according to a new report.

An examination by the San Jose Mercury News of 500-plus special fund accounts, like the $54 million discrepancy in state parks money, shows a $2.3 billion “discrepancy” between state controller and Department of Finance numbers.

No one checks the controller’s figures so the difference wasn’t caught.

At least 17 accounts appear to have significantly more reserve cash than what was reported to the finance department.

Gov. Jerry Brown and legislators used the lower amount when they put together the budget.

The violent crime victim restitution fund, for instance, was off by $29 million, and a low-cost child health insurance fund was off by $30 million.

Last week, Ruth Coleman, director of the state Department of Parks and Recreation, stepped down, and chief deputy Michael Harris was let go amid questions about underreported funds in their department.

The director of California’s state parks resigned and a deputy was fired Friday after officials learned the department sat on nearly $54 million in surplus money for years while parks were threatened with closure over budget cuts.

Coleman said she was unaware of the surplus but accepted responsibility for the accounting problem.

“I am personally appalled to learn that our documents were not accurate,” she wrote in her resignation letter released by the governor’s office.

The shake-up comes at a time when state lawmakers and park advocates have been trying to find ways to keep most parks open despite ongoing budget cuts. Last month, park officials announced most of the 70 state parks once slated to close would remain open.

It’s not clear why the accounts weren’t properly reported.

A preliminary investigation shows the parks department underreported two funds as far back as 2000.

The state parks and recreation fund, which is generated from park fees and rentals, held $20.4 million more than was reported. The off-highway vehicle fund, which is generated from registering ATVs and similar types of vehicles, held $33.5 million more than reported.

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