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Gas tax change may have caused part of parks surplus, analyst says

August 10, 2012 |  7:00 am

A change to California's gas tax in 2010 could have diverted a large chunk of money to an off-roading fund

There's a new theory about some of the accounting problems at California's parks department, and it's much less scandalous than earlier allegations.

Here's the theory in a nutshell -- a 2010 change in how the state handles the gas tax mistakenly pumped more money into a fund for off-road vehicles, accounting for about $33.5 million of the department's nearly $54-million hidden surplus.

The idea was floated by the Legislative Analyst's Office in a report released Thursday.

Of course, even if the theory is accurate, that doesn't mean there wasn't any wrongdoing at the parks department. There's still another $20.4 million in a second parks fund that had been misreported to state finance officials.

Administration officials, lawmakers, the state auditor and the state attorney general are all examining the situation, and a definitive account on what went wrong has not yet been released.

The theory floated Thursday involves a deep dive into accounting minutiae. In 2010, lawmakers altered how the state defines the gas tax in order to evade restrictions on how they can spend the money, a change known as the "gas tax swap."

The change sent tens of millions of extra dollars into the Off-Highway Vehicle Trust Fund before state finance officials realized the mistake and corrected it in 2011, according to the Legislative Analyst's Office.

An accounting spreadsheet provided by Gov. Jerry Brown's administration appears to support the theory. The extra money in the off-road fund seems to have accumulated only after the gas tax was altered. Meanwhile, the amount of money in the second parks fund was misreported for at least a dozen years.

H.D. Palmer, a spokesman for Gov. Jerry Brown's Department of Finance, said the impact of the gas tax change is one part of the reviews being conducted by administration officials and the attorney general's office.


California finds $119 million more in untapped funds

State parks fund scandal leads to buyer's remorse for donors

Brown administration pledges to keep closer eye on special funds

-- Chris Megerian in Sacramento

Photo: An Arco station in Los Angeles in July. Credit: Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images