Before the furor had even had a chance to die down about the self-supporting Department of Boating and Waterways (Cal Boating) being absorbed into the budget-challenged Department of Parks and Recreation, news of just how bad the budget problems are at Parks and Rec found its way to the front pages of newspapers across the state.
According to news reports, a total of $33.5 million from the Off-Highway Vehicle Trust Fund and $20.4 million from the State Parks and Recreation Fund had been “hidden” — having simply been “unreported” by Parks and Rec over the past 12 years. Later reports claimed the department’s “stewards” were secretly keeping the funds for use in case of “an emergency,” such as a major earthquake that might someday devastate state parks facilities.
Whatever the “plan” may have been, at a time when Parks and Rec was about to close nearly 70 state parks and was asking nonprofit groups to help staff and fund operations at parks throughout the state, the $53 million in “hidden funds” caused an understandable amount of uproar. Parks Director Ruth Coleman resigned July 20 and chief deputy Michael Harris left soon after.
The governor has called for an audit and an investigation, to find out if any more missing funds are hidden away somewhere. And boaters across the state are now even more concerned than ever that Parks and Rec — when it officially takes over Cal Boating in July 2013 — will divert boater funds to non-boating expenses, or somehow “lose” those funds altogether.
What was billed as an effort to “streamline government” by turning Cal Boating into a division of Parks and Rec now seems even more to be a simple appropriation of Cal Boating’s all-too-attractive boater-supplied funds.
The boater advocacy group Recreational Boaters of California has called on its members to contact their state legislators — in the California Senate and Assembly — and demand a full accounting of boater funds that have already been directed to State Parks.
“California’s boaters provide significant funding to State Parks through park entrance fees, as well as fuel tax dollars totaling close to $30 million per year,” said Cleve Hardaker, RBOC president. “It is essential that boaters have confidence that the funds we pay the state are used wisely and effectively.”