The California OHV Trust Fund and Local Assistance Grants program is emerging as a hot topic item for the coming legislative session, again. This political hot-potato is linked with the on-going scandal within California Department of Parks and Recreation. That scandal involves at least $54 million in "hidden" funds during a time when State Parks was pleading for private funding and increased tax dollars to keep 70 State Park units open. What is known is that at least $33.5 million of the "hidden" funds are part of the Off Highway Vehicle Trust Fund.
The ink is dry on the Fiscal Year 2013 California budget and details are coming into focus. So, what about the OHV Program? What about the future of OHV recreation in the state of California? The OHV Program budget is linked to the California State Parks budget. Now, for the rest of the story...
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While news headlines claim nearly all California State Parks will remain open, the angst caused by State Senator Simitian and the California State Parks Foundation ended as no benefit to the State Parks and a detriment to the OHV Program.
BAD NEWS: In short, the Governor reduced the OHV Trust Fund portion of gas tax revenue. Rather than $21 million loss of gas tax funding to the OHV Program, the loss was $7 million. The end result is the OHV local assistance grant program will be funded at the $10 million level (identified through separate legislation as a cap on local assistance grant funding) as opposed to the $21 million of the previous year.
GOOD NEWS: Now, let’s examine the details of the gas tax portion. There was an effort to divert $21 million in gas tax revenue from the Motor Vehicle Fund Account originally proposed to fund the local assistance grants portion of the state OHV Program. That effort resulted in $7 million being lost while the remaining $14 million was transferred to the OHV Trust Fund. And, the Local Assistance Grants component was capped at $10 million.
History: The Off Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Program was established under Chappie-Z’berg Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Law of 1971 as a self-funded program to provide for motorized recreation opportunities for the State of California and authorized grants and cooperative agreements to local and federal agencies and non-profits in support of OHV recreation opportunities.
The Local Assistance Grants Program began in the 1974/1975 Budget Cycle. As initiated, the local assistance grants program contained four categories: 1) Education and Safety, 2) Law Enforcement, 3) Operations and Maintenance, and 4) Restoration. In 1978, federal agencies became eligible for cooperative agreements under the grants program. Operations and Maintenance was the major focus of the grants program until the 2001 cycle when Restoration began to be a focal point for grants.
Beginning with the 2005 grant cycle, the Off Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation (OHMVR) Division of California State Parks implemented a competitive grant application review process. Under the new competitive review process, the local assistance grant applications are evaluated to determine a “point score”. This process is an effort to provide an objective evaluation and assign a score using a pre-defined set of criteria. In theory, this effort will apply constraints to a subjective evaluation and result in an “objective” score and a “competitive” ranking of the grant applications.
This change was in response to a Joint Legislative Audit Committee, the Bureau of State Audits audit Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Program: The Lack of a Shared Vision and Questionable Use of Program Funds Limit Its Effectiveness.
On January 1, 2008, SB 742 fundamentally changed the distribution available for the grants. Those changes are reflected with the numbers for the 2009 Grant year.
The below table displays the total amount of Local Assistance Grants by category during the life of the OHV grant program.
This is the first in a multi-part series that will take an in-depth look into the California Off Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Program and the on-going funding struggles.