By Staff Reports
(Victor Valley)– Based on a recent report by the State Auditor’s office that confirms the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) illegally diverted $3.7 million of taxpayer funds into a hidden account called the Wildland Fire Fund, Senator Steve Knight (R-Antelope Valley) introduced two pieces of legislation, Senate Bills 1074 and 1075. The measures will punish state employees if they hide state funds from the public, ensure state resources are properly spent, and require all funds in the secret account be returned to the state treasury.
Slush funds are becoming too common in state government. The Cal Fire audit was published a little more than a year after the discovery of the $54 million State Parks hidden fund last year. “This was a clear abuse of the public trust,” said Senator Knight. “State Employees set up an off-the-books slush fund and used the taxpayer’s money for equipment that is now missing and a conference at a Pismo Beach resort among other misuses. These measures are the first step in restoring the public’s trust. We have to ensure this type of waste and abuse never happens again. If it does, public servants that abuse their power and violate the law will now be subject to real consequences.”
SB 1074 would prevent the misuse of taxpayer dollars by adding criminal punishments for state employees who funnel state money into hidden accounts. Under current law, operating such slush funds is illegal, but there is no punishment for employees that knowingly divert public money into hidden private accounts. SB 1074 would make such actions a misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail or a $10,000 fine.
“Cal Fire controls $1.3 billion in taxpayer dollars and should be held to the highest of standards,” added Knight. “Californians deserve better than to find out from the local newspaper that their government is misusing their hard-earned money. The Legislature needs to be a better watchdog to uncover and prevent improper and illegal behavior by state government officials.”
SB 1075 follows the recommendation from the State Auditor to direct any funds recovered by Cal Fire’s Civil Cost Recovery Program (CCR) program back into the State Treasury. The bill also requires that all funds remaining in the off-the-books Wildland Fire Fund be returned to the General Fund where they belong.
The legislation is designed to protect Californians by reducing the incidence of inappropriate lawsuits for personal gain by state entities, ensuring recovered taxpayer funds are returned to the state treasury, and imposing real consequences on state bureaucrats that abuse their power and violate the public trust. Both Senate Bills 1074 and 1075 are awaiting referral from the Senate Rules Committee to their first policy committee.