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Tuesday, Jul 24 2012 11:05 PM

We don't need more surprises of $53 million

By The Bakersfield Californian

Score another one for government efficiency. News that the California Department of Parks and Recreation has quietly, and perhaps unknowingly, accumulated $53 million in state funds while preparing to close dozens of state parks does nothing to assuage widespread perceptions that government is too often a poor steward of taxpayer dollars.

The state Parks and Recreation managed to squire away $20.4 million in its Parks and Recreation Fund and $33.5 million in its Off-Highway Vehicle Trust Fund over a 12-year period. Meanwhile, volunteer groups, nonprofits and assorted others have been working feverishly to keep as many parks open as possible through donations and other accommodations, and state lawmakers passed legislation facilitating unique arrangements that put nongovernmental organizations, rather than the state, in charge of running some parks. The unprecedented push to preserve some of California's greatest resources has been impressive.

And now we discover that it didn't even have to happen.

We've learned at least two things here. One, Californians place great pride in their parks and will go to great lengths to protect them. And, two, if one state agency can misplace $53 million in special funds, what else might be under the sofa cushions of other agencies?

The monumental gaffe that cost state parks boss Ruth Coleman her job -- she resigned, as well she should -- should be a wake-up call in Sacramento and across the state. If agencies aren't already conducting internal audits of the funds accumulated from special user fees, DMV surcharges and the like, they ought to be. The state Controller's Office must remind state agencies about their obligations to account for taxpayer and user-fee dollars -- and immediately identify discrepancies. It shouldn't take the discovery of a $53 million oversight to inspire more responsible bookkeeping.

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