n 2012, the California Parks and Recreation Department hid $20 million in funds and issued improper payouts to employees resulting in major state budget deficits. This lack of transparency threatened the closure of several state parks and severely damaged the public's trust.
As a member of the Joint Committee on Legislative Audit, government transparency has always been a priority for me. This incident made me realize it was all too easy for a state entity to hide substantial funds - funds from taxpayers meant to support, enhance and preserve our state's treasured parks.
While California parks were continually told there were no funds available, millions of dollars were hidden, causing many recreational areas to face the possibility of closure. Rather than seeing parks close, passionate individuals formed organizations like Save Our River Parks, an organization that raised $65,000 in private funds to keep Merced County's McConnell and Hatfield State Recreation Areas open. Save Our River Parks was one of dozens of organizations formed across the state to ensure that parks were not closed as a result of the budget crisis.
Cindy Lashbrook, East Merced Resource Conservation district associate director and Save Our River Parks member, said she is grateful that the community came together to raise funds, however, she definitely would have preferred the funds raised to help improve these parks by educating children, attracting tourist dollars and stewarding our national resources.
I wholeheartedly agree. If there is money available for a specific state agency, those funds should not only be transparent to the public, but allocated appropriately. Although this isn't a reflection of all state departments, one department's mismanagement of funds created a domino effect that ultimately impacted the entire state budget. It caused a great disservice to Californians on many levels, most importantly being your right to know where and how your tax dollars are spent.
I think everyone can agree greater government transparency is a good thing.
This is why I have introduced SB 898 to increase accountability, checks and balances by requiring each state agency, department and entity to provide the state treasurer with its employer identification number, as well as authorize the state treasurer to use these numbers to monitor state bank accounts and state money that are outside of the state treasury system.
This new legislation will provide the fiscal accountability that you deserve and restore your confidence in our state government transparency by knowing the state has safeguards in place that prevents the abuse of your taxpayer dollars.
As always, my staff and I welcome your opinions and questions. I encourage you to visit my website at http://senate.ca.gov/cannella to learn more, as well as to find helpful information like district office locations and phone numbers.