SACRAMENTO -- State finance officials caught accounting discrepancies at the California parks department as far back as 1999, but the issue was not resolved until it mushroomed into an embarrassing scandal last year, according to a new audit released Thursday.
The audit also described other loose practices at state parks: Parks and Recreation Department officials haven't tracked costs and spending for individual parks, and base operating estimates on 2002 guidelines, making it difficult to get detailed financial information.
Lawmakers ordered the audit after it was revealed last year that the department had a hidden surplus even though it was threatening to close dozens of facilities. A subsequent investigation by the attorney general's office determined that parks officials had deliberately hidden about $20 million in hopes of preventing budget cuts.
For years, parks officials would report accurate financial information to the state controller, who tracks cash flow, and smaller figures to the Department of Finance, which plans the state budget.