A joint legislative panel showed unanimous support 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. The audit panel initially voted 7-0 on a bipartisan basis for an expedited parks audit, though the tally was not yet final because some members were expected to add their votes later.
Gov. Jerry Brown administration officials 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 that the mistakes were honest unlike the parks situation. The department also said that most of the net $196.7 million in extra funds had been corrected prior to the latest budget enactment in June and are not surplus like the parks money.
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 Thursday on the parks situation and the Finance audit showing accounting inconsistencies.