Battle begins over state park millions

3:23 PM, Jul 24, 2012   |    comments
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SACRAMENTO, CA - 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 parks doesn't necessarily get to keep the money.

"No department gets to keep, technically gets to keep 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, California Resources Agency spokesman.

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 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 on a state level for the last 30 years is operating on a bare-bones budget," Sierra Club spokesman Jim Metropulos said. "There's a backlog of maintenance work of $1.3 billion ... They should be able to keep the money."

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

This year alone, welfare limits were cut from four years to two, and fewer slots for subsidized child care were available for low income mothers.

The parks surplus could be used to back off on some of the cuts.

"If they haven't used it in 12 years, it should go to other services that have received the most cuts recently, like welfare; child care; health care," said Collette Tiemeyer, who supports earmarking the funds for 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 for financial aid," said community college student Isaiah Salinas.

"Gov. 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 when there was extra money."

Nannette Miranda


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