State Parks Funding

Lawmakers ask for independent audit of California parks department

A joint legislative panel asked Wednesday for an independent audit of California's state parks department after revelations that officials there hid nearly $54 million and approved unauthorized vacation buyouts.

The Joint Legislative Audit Committee asked State Auditor Elaine Howle to prioritize the investigation into how the Department of Parks and Recreation hid funds and underreported account balances to the Department of Finance and lawmakers. Howle said she could fast-track the audit to the Legislature by January, the start of the next budget season.

The committee also asked Howle to investigate how parks officials secretly paid out more than $271,000 to 56 employees in exchange for stored vacation time, transactions first reported by The Bee last month.

Officials in Gov. Jerry Brown's administration said last month that the parks department hid nearly $54 million in two funds. On Friday, his Department of Finance said it discovered $268.5 million of accounting errors in other special funds in a quick two-week review, but found no problems similar to the parks situation.

Assemblywoman Beth Gaines, R-Rocklin, told the legislative panel that the Department of Finance's recent findings were insufficient and that an independent review from Howle's Bureau of State Audits would inspire more public confidence.

"Californians feel betrayed, and this audit is essential to gaining back their trust," said Gaines, who was among more than a dozen signatories from both parties asking for the review.

The Assembly Budget Committee will question Brown officials for the first time today on the parks situation and the Finance Department audit showing accounting inconsistencies.