Time to privatize CA parks
By John Seiler
Last year Californians discovered their state parks were mismanaged. While shutting parks supposedly because of a lack of money, it turned out they had a $54 million surplus squirreled away.
Given the billions of dollars voters have approved for state bonds for parks and last year’s massive park fee increase, the parks should be overflowing with money. What happened? A new audit by state Auditor Elaine Howle has the details:
“For years the department has continually reported different fund balance amounts to the Department of Finance (Finance) than it reported to the State Controller’s Office (State Controller) for both the parks fund and the off-highway vehicle fund.”
If any private company did that, its officers would go to prison under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.
“Correspondence we reviewed in the department’s accounting and budget files show that Finance informed the department that differences existed between the amounts reported in the governor’s budget and those provided in the State Controller’s budgetary report as early as April 1999, yet neither current staff nor documentation we reviewed in the accounting and budget files at the department supplied an explanation regarding what originally caused the differences or why the issue was not resolved until the fall of 2012.”
So the parks’ fiscal malfeasance has lasted at least 14 years, through four governorships, before it was revealed.
“Over the years, various individuals at the department became aware of the differences in the amounts being reported. According to the current accounting administrator, approximately one year after she became aware of reporting differences in 2002, she was directed by the accounting administrator at the time to begin preparing fund condition statements—which show revenues, expenditures, prior-year adjustments, transfers, and fund balances—and providing them to the department’s budget office. However, she stated that the department’s budget office continued to report its own amounts and that over the next six years three different budget officers, including the current one, came to her with concerns about the differences in reporting. “
They just don’t care about the money!
The auditor made numerous suggestions, which the parks people and the state Department of Finance accepted.
But the real solution is privatization. Turn all the state parks over to private companies, such as Disneyland, Knotts Berry Farm and Magic Mountain. Let the companies make some money and the costs will go down and the service up.
Instead of park bonds paid for with massive tax increases, the private companies would raise private capital to fund improvements. Best of all, state taxpayers would not be on the hook for park employees’ pensions. The private companies would offer private pension programs, such as 401(k)s.
Let Disneyland — the “Happiest Place on Earth” — turn California’s badly run parks into the happiest parks on earth.
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