By Kevin Yamamura
Published: Friday, Aug. 24, 2012 – 12:00 am | Page 1A

State workers call it “use it or lose it,” a practice in which departments try to spend every last penny rather than save for the good of the overall California budget.

It is a “perverse” dynamic of government spending, the state’s Little Hoover Commission observed more than a decade ago. Department directors fear that Capitol budget writers see leftover funds as proof that too much money was authorized in the first place, possibly resulting in future cuts.

To avoid that outcome, departments spend on anything from extra paper clips to new computers before the fiscal year ends each June.

“It’s clearly part of the culture and part of the tension that exists between the Department of Finance and agencies,” said James P. Mayer, who serves as executive director of California Forward and previously examined the issue with the Little Hoover Commission.

At the state Department of Parks and Recreation, fourth-quarter pressure to exhaust general fund dollars led administrators to pursue an unauthorized buyout of vacation time and draw up last-minute “dummy” documents for a computer purchase, according to transcripts released last week from an internal investigation. That occurred even as Gov. Jerry Brown threatened to close 70 parks.

“With what we’ve seen from the parks scandal, when you have a use-it-or-lose-it philosophy, it tends to encourage efforts to hide money or spend everything on things you might not necessarily need,” said Sen. Lois Wolk, D–Davis. “It’s not a very good way of encouraging efficiency or innovation.”

Employees interviewed for the state inquiry, as well as other state workers who contacted the Bee afterward, said they believe the use-it-or-lose-it practice exists well beyond parks.

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