State dips into off-highway vehicle trust fund again |

State dips into off-highway vehicle trust fund again

Dylan Silver
Published Caption: Jim Grant / Tahoe Daily Tribune file /

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – California budget makers ruled to cut and borrow money from the Off-Highway Vehicle Division’s trust fund, a completely user-generated reserve managed by the California Parks and Recreation Department – and this isn’t the first time.

“At the end of the day it’s turned into a piggy bank that’s robbed on a yearly basis,” said Don Amador, the western representative of the nation-wide BlueRibbon Coalition, an advocacy group for off-road motorists.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 84 Thursday, which will allow up to a $21 million loan from the OHV trust fund to the general fund. A $10 million transfer of fuel tax revenue that would normally go to the trust fund to the general fund was passed by the Senate and approved by the governor in Assembly Bill 95 on the same day.

“California state legislators have mismanaged their money year after year after year, and now they want to take money from the OHV trust fund,” said Wayne Fischer, a spokesman for Tahoe Sierra Snowmobiling Club. “It’s just kind of frustrating that because we’ve done a good job, we’re being penalized.”

The transfer and the loan will impact off-highway motor vehicle users, including snowmobilers who benefit from groomed trails at Little Truckee Summit, and off-roaders who use the Rubicon Trail and other Tahoe 4×4 trails.

“Over the life of the fund, there’s been a number of times they’ve borrowed money,” said Phil Jenkins, chief of the Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Division. “They don’t have a very good record of paying it back.”

Since the inception of the trust fund in 1971, the state government has borrowed $160 million for the general fund, according to a report by the OHV commission. None of it has been paid back, the report showed.

In fiscal year 2009/’10, the general fund borrowed $22 million from the trust fund with no specific repayment date, though vehicle code 38225(d) requires money borrowed from the trust fund for the general fund to be repaid within two years. In fiscal year 2008/’09, the general fund borrowed $90 million that’s required to be paid back by June 30, 2013. The current loan is supposed to be paid back within two years.

Unless there’s a modification of the loans before the deadlines, the loans will be repaid on schedule, said H.D. Palmer, a spokesman for the Department of Finance.

With a $67 million operating budget, the $10 million transfer, which is set to recur every year after 2011/’12, will affect both areas of the OHV division’s spending: operations and grants. Cuts to grants will decrease funding for programs such as search and rescue and environment rehabilitation. Cuts to operations will mean the commission will have to scale back maintenance of state vehicular recreation areas and grant administration. Cutting staff is a possibility, Jenkins said.

“Losing that reserve, there’s projects we’ll have to delay until we get that money back,” said Jenkins. “The $10 million begins to impact what we’re doing in the coming year.”

The off-highway vehicle commission’s trust fund is funded primarily by fuel taxes and off-highway vehicle registration fees.

“The whole idea is that it’s self-funded,” Jenkins said. “We’ve never taken help from the general fund and we’re proud of that.”

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