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Ex-state parks worker tells of reporting hidden $20 million

  • FILE -- In this May 13, 2011 file photo Ruth Coleman, director of California State Parks, discusses the possible closure of 70 of California's state parks due to budget cuts, during a news conference in Sacramento, Calif. A former state parks official said he repeatedly told his superiors about more than $53 million hidden in two accounts that could have been used to help California avoid the threat of closing 70 state parks, a newspaper reported Thursday. Manuel Lopez, former deputy director of administrative services for the Department of Parks and Recreation, said he informed agency Director Ruth Coleman about a $20 million surplus in the Parks and Recreation Fund at least five times over a span of about five years, The Sacramento Bee reported. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, file)

SACRAMENTO — A former California state parks employee says she told state attorneys that her department was hiding about $20 million in a special fund several months before officials announced discovering the surplus money, according to a sworn declaration filed in court Tuesday.

The development is the latest revelation in a budget scandal that has state officials on the defensive and threatens to undermine Gov. Jerry Brown's push for a voter-approved tax increase.

The court declaration from Cheryl Taylor, a former parks employee, raises further questions about what state officials knew, when they knew it, and what action, if any, they took before the California Natural Resources Agency revealed the hidden pot of money in July.

Such special funds contribute to the state's general fund budget each year as lawmakers take millions of dollars in loans from the funds to close budget deficits.

To plug this year's budget gap, the governor proposed closing 70 state parks to save $33 million over two years, prompting a scramble by local governments and nonprofits to raise money and keep most of the parks open this summer. Brown also has pushed a message of fiscal responsibility as he has urged voters to increase the state's revenue by approving a tax hike in November.


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