SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Lawmakers called Thursday for greater oversight of state accounts after expressing outrage over revelations that state park officials hid money.
Assembly members used an oversight hearing as an opportunity to blast state agencies and the governor's Department of Finance for accounting practices that led to hundreds of millions of dollars in discrepancies in hundreds of special funds.
The hearing is the latest fallout from the attempt by some state parks officials to underreport nearly $54 million in two of those funds.
Lawmakers also discussed additional oversight measures, including establishing a special fund committee, new reporting practices and increased communication between the controller and finance.
The governor's finance department reviewed the 560 funds last week and found no other instances of hidden money. However it did find discrepancies, sometimes in the hundreds of millions of dollars, in the amount reported to it and the state controller's office by different government departments.
During the Legislature's first formal inquiry into the scandal, Democrats and Republicans suggested that audit was not enough.
Finance Director Ana Matosantos sat stony-faced as the members of the Assembly Budget Subcommittee On Budget Process, Oversight and Program Evaluation expressed their concerns about the special funds, which receive about $38 billion in revenue every year.
"Short of a forensic audit, I don't know that you all are in a position to say without a doubt that there's no other money out there," said Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles.
The revelation of the hidden money has Democratic nervous about their chances of passing a ballot measure in November that would increase taxes. On Thursday, Republican lawmakers drew links between the special fund inquiry and the proposed tax hike.
"We're losing public trust; we're asking them for money, we're cutting programs, and we've lost trust," said Assemblywoman Diane Harkey.
The Dana Park Republican later called the scandal "an embarrassment for California."
Several lawmakers questioned the department of finance's ability to audit its own practices objectively.
Jason Sisney, deputy legislative analyst, said most of the discrepancies in special fund balances were due to reporting practices and in some cases sloppiness, but not concealment. He emphasized that his office, like other agencies, relies on the department of finance for reliable numbers.
Gov. Jerry Brown rejected the notion that a crisis of faith in government could cause voters to reject his tax hike intended to help fund education. Voters will be balancing pocketbook matters with their concern for school funding, he said during an appearance near Los Angeles.
"People get to choose," he said. "It's not a question of your confidence or not."
He also reiterated his relief that the parks department had been hiding a surplus of funds, not a deficit.
"Thank God they were extra funds that some of the lower level bureaucrats were keeping away from both the higher authorities and the Legislature," he said.
The Democratic governor said last week that he will require all state departments to follow new accounting procedures as a result of the parks department debacle.