When a government agency and special interests talk about public funds as "our money." The hair on the back of your neck should stand on end. When they justify a secret slush fund of $33.5 million as "our money," the alarm bells should sound. Welcome to the Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation (OHMVR) Division of the State Parks Department.
On July 20, it was disclosed that the State Parks Department had a secret fund of $54 million, of which $33.5 million was in a OHMVR Division secret fund. The widespread condemnation of the Parks Department scandal is justified. What is shocking is the off-highway vehicle (OHV) lobby suggestion that the OHMVR Division's secret slush fund was justified because of the OHMVR Division's separate funding and organization. Nothing could be further from the truth or better demonstrate the need for a wholesale overhaul of the OHMVR Division.
In 1971, the off-highway vehicle program was established in State Parks, developing into the separate OHMVR Division with a separate appointed commission, trust fund and dedicated funding stream. Fuel tax transfers make up the vast majority of its budget, with park entrance fees and OHV sticker fees a distant second.
Because of its separate organization and funding and powerful lobby, the OHMVR Division, subsidized by tax dollars, evolved into little more than an extension of the OHV industry catering to OHV users. OHMVR operates as an insular rogue organization, not an accountable public agency. Part of the taxpayer subsidized trust fund became a slush fund to be hidden from elected officials and taxpayers.
The Legislature and governor not OHV users, lobbyists or staff determine how public funds are allocated through the public budget process. Had the Legislature known about the $33.5 million secret fund it may have adopted a modified OHMVR reauthorization in 2008. It might have passed a different budget two months ago providing more funding for State Parks to complete long deferred maintenance. The governor may have signed a different budget for 2012-2013 not deleting the reallocation of excess OHMVR funds to State Parks under the sustainable parks plan. Or perhaps our elected officials would have said "no" to OHMVR altogether and funded education.
Truth and transparency are cornerstones to a well-functioning government. The OHMVR secret fund and insular bureaucracy corrupted that foundation. Not only should those responsible be fired and the secret funds taken away from OHMVR, but the OHMVR Division needs to be drastically restructured or even eliminated. The governor and Legislature should immediately require full compliance with environmental laws at all State Vehicular Recreation Areas, correct the long documented OHMVR/State Parks funding inequity, appoint a new State Parks director with the integrity and guts to stand up to the OHV lobby, and in addition to a financial audit conduct a top to bottom organizational re-evaluation of the OHMVR Division boondoggle.
Icanberry is a retired U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service fisheries biologist from Livermore. He is on the steering committee of a group dedicated to establishing Tesla Park (www.teslapark.org) in eastern Alameda County as a non-OHV use low-impact recreation historic and natural resource park and preserve.