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State Net Capitol Journal Legislative Updates: Polar Bear and Arctic Wolf Buy Votes in Battle For Presidential Election

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ENVIRONMENT: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approves a plan by COLORADO officials to improve the state's air quality. Officials say the plan will cut overall greenhouse gas causing emissions 70,000 tons by 2018 (DENVER POST). • FLORIDA officials formally authorize an $880 million cleanup project for the Everglades. The plan includes new projects that will expand on an existing network of manmade marshes designed to reduce the flow of the damaging nutrient phosphorus into the Everglades (MIAMI HERALD). • CALIFORNIA Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signs AB 1492, a bill that, among several things, eliminates a host of regulatory fees on the state's timber industry while imposing a 1 percent tax on all lumber sales. The measure also extends the life of timber harvesting permits from three years to five years and limits the civil liability for logging companies and other large landowners that spark wildfires (STATE NET, CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR'S OFFICE).

CA PARKS DEPARTMENT'S SURPRISE SURPLUS NOT NEW: The revelation this summer that the California Department of Parks and Recreation had $54 million stashed away in two hidden accounts even as 70 state parks were threatened with budget-forced closures - and the subsequent scandal that resulted from that news - have thrown a spotlight on a mystery that has plagued the department for years. Since at least 2009, annual budget reviews of the department have showed multi-million surpluses, but budget officials at the department have been unable to explain why.

One year a budget manager was demoted because the department's deputy director of administration refused to believe her estimate of a $125 million surplus, which was later determined to be correct. And the surprise surpluses continued.

"When I saw the numbers, I said holy crap," Assistant Deputy Director David Saxby said of a budget estimate for the 2009-10 fiscal year in an April 25 interview with a deputy attorney general. "There was another big balance, not as big as the year before, but another big balance."

The mystery has yet to be solved, but separate investigations by the attorney general's office and the state auditor are ongoing. (SACRAMENTO BEE)

AN ELECTION WITH REAL TEETH: Tired of the ceaseless negativity of the presidential campaign? Check out the Alaska Zoo in Anchorage, where officials are conducting a presidential campaign that will produce a sure winner but no real loser. As the Associated Press reports, the race is between Ahpun the polar bear and an arctic wolf named Denali, with the winner becoming the zoo "president" for the next four years. Zookeepers readily admit the whole thing is a shameless ploy to raise funds, and with ballots costing a buck each, they are encouraging voters to go hog wild in an attempt to buy the election outright. Online voters are also welcome, with no messy ID issues clouding the picture. And if you're wondering if other issues are at play, zoo official Eileen Floyd assures us that "this race is not about the color of their fur, their gender, or even a species issue."

- Compiled by RICH EHISEN

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