State finance officials warned the parks department as early as April 1999 about unreported budget surpluses that went unresolved until last year, a new California State Auditor report finds.
Despite that warning, Department of Parks and Recreation officials continued to sweep accounting differences under the rug until last year, when state attorneys and The Bee investigated the issue.
The current parks budget officer told auditors that she discovered the difference in February 2011 when she joined the department. But two former high-level officials told her to keep quiet because state budget writers might impose deeper funding cuts to the department.
The new audit also questioned the way in which state officials threatened to close 70 parks in previous budget discussions. It said that threat was "premature" because the department had never determined the amount needed to operate all 278 state parks at the 2010 level, a comparison basis that would have been necessary to properly assess how many parks to shutter.
PHOTO CREDIT: A deck juts out into the water at Brannan Island State Recreation Area, a California state park that's a maze of waterways through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Manny Crisostomo / Sacramento Bee file, 2010