The announcement this past Friday, the 20th, had activists across the board angry at Sacramento. After the much contested cuts to OHV, and the year-long threat of State Park closures, the discovery of $50 million in unaccounted for funds at the Department of Parks and Recreation has had everyone wondering why we were asked to jump into emergency action mode when it seems like the money was available all along.
But, as many of these things often are, it is more complicated than it is being reported as in the press. First, the $50 million is not free-and-clear money. $33.5 million of it is part of the OHV trust fund, meaning that it can only (and could only have ever) been used for the Department's OHV program. Even had this $33.5 million been discovered earlier, it could not have been used to save any of the 70 State Parks that were on the closure list.
And the other $20.4 million? Unlike the newly discovered OHV Trust Fund moneys, this surplus Parks and Recreation Fund cash perhaps could have been used to help fund some of the troubled state parks, but this would have been just a one-time injection for this year's budget only. In reality, what might seem like budget windfall is barely a drop in the $1.3 billion maintenance backlog bucket at our State Parks and not the long-term budget solution some are making it sound like it is.
So what happens now? An audit will determine if the $33.5 million from the OHV Trust Fund is earmarked for a specific purposes and how it can be spent. As to the $20.4 million, its fate is likely at the hands of the legislature and is less certain. That money grew out of campsite, day-use and other concession fees and, we believe, should be spent at the parks from which they were collected.