Saying he was "aghast" at revelations that state parks officials had been hiding some $54 million, Assembly Speaker John Pérez says his house will now examine the fiscal status of every state special fund.
"The amount of money is de minimus compared to the budget crisis, but it's a basic question of trust," said Pérez in an interview in his state Capitol office Monday.
Last week, Gov. Jerry Brown's budget team released a result of their audit of all 560 of the state budget's special funds. That audit found several million dollars in errors and accounting disputes, but nothing similar to the parks saga of money being secretly squirreled away for years.
Pérez, though, wants his own investigation of those funds. "We're going to hold oversight hearings just to make sure the Legislature double checks that work," he said.
Legislators arrived back in Sacramento Monday for the final four weeks of the two-year session. A number of big issues are on the agenda, including some resolution of the year-long debate over the governor's proposal to modify pensions for state and local government workers.
But the state parks controversy, which erupted with the July 20 resignation of the department's longtime director, has pushed its way near the top of the Legislature's to-do list. An Assembly budget subcommittee will begin its review on Thursday, and legislators are also soon expected to ask for a formal audit of the state parks operations.
Governor Brown has pledged that $20 million of the hidden parks money be used to fund maintenance and to establish a matching fund for private donations that were made to keep parks from closing.
Speaker Pérez says he supports additional help for parks, but he left open the question of whether there's not some way to shift other dollars as a result of the newly discovered surplus.
"We also have to look at everything we have to do in the budget to make sure we have a survivable way to respond to the [state's fiscal] crisis," he said.