Separations of Powers: Appropriation Powers

Legislatures are responsible for enacting laws and appropriating funds. But what does “appropriating funds” mean? It is the action taken by the legislature to authorize the expenditure of a designated amount of public funds for a specific purpose.

  • By definition, “appropriating funds” appears to be straightforward. In reality, the appropriation process is not quite so clear cut. Both legislative and executive branches play significant roles in budgeting.
  • Executive branch agencies provide budgetary information to the governor, who then develops a proposed budget and submits it to the legislature.
  • The legislature reviews and adjusts the governor’s proposed budget until it is in a form that is acceptable to the legislature, and the budget is passed.
  • The enacted budget is returned to the governor for his or her consideration.
  • Governors may veto the enacted budget in its entirety. In most states, governors also have the option to veto only portions (items) of the bill.
  • If any gubernatorial vetoes occur, the budget is returned to the legislature with the governor’s objections.
  • The legislature can override gubernatorial vetoes, thereby enacting the vetoed bill (or portions thereof) into law over the governor’s objections.

In addition, most states operate under balanced budget requirements. Questions frequently arise over who is responsible for maintaining the balanced budget and what actions can be taken to do so.

Federal funds also can trigger state legislative-executive conflict over who controls these funds.



Transfer of Appropriations:

Federal Funds Appropriation:

Case Law

  • Arizona Law Review: Susan Schwem, “Forty-Seventh Legislature of the State of Arizona v. Napolitano: Appropriations of Authority,” Arizona Law Review, Vol. 40:179, 2007 
  • Illinois: People ex rel. Kirk v. Lindberg, 59 Ill. 2d 38, 320 N.E.2d 17 (1974) 
  • Michigan: House Speaker v. State Administrative Board, 441 Mich. 547; 495 NW2d 539 (1993) 
  • Minnesota: Deanna Brayton, et al. vs. Tim Pawlenty, et al., 2009
  • Nebraska: State ex rel. Bullock Mfg. Co. v. Babcock, 22 Neb. 33, 33 N.W. 709 (1887)
  • Nebraska: State ex rel. Dales v. Moore, 36 Neb. 579, 54 N.W. 866 (1893)
  • Nebraska: State ex rel. Norfolk Beet-Sugar Co. v. Moore, 50 Neb. 88, 69 N.W. 373 (1896)
  • Nebraska: State ex rel. Hibbard v. Cornell, 60 Neb. 276, 83 N.W. 72 (1900)
  • Nebraska: State ex rel. Ledwith v. Brian, 84 Neb. 30, 120 N.W. 916 (1909)
  • Nebraska: State ex rel. Ridgell v. Hall, 99 Neb. 89, 155 N.W. 228 (1915), affirmed on rehearing 99 Neb. 95, 156 N.W. 16 (1916), overruled in Rein v. Johnsen, 149 Neb. 67, 30 N.W.2d 548 (1947).
  • Nebraska: State ex rel. Western Bridge & Construction Co. v. Marsh, 111 Neb. 185, 196 N.W. 130 (1923)
  • Nebraska: Fischer v. Marsh, 113 Neb. 153, 202 N.W. 422 (1925)
  • Nebraska: Power Oil Co. v. Cochran, 138 Neb. 827, 295 N.W. 805 (1941)
  • Nebraska: State ex rel. Johnson v. Marsh, 149 Neb. 1, 29 N.W.2d 799 (1947)
  • Nebraska: Midwest Popcorn Co. v. Johnson, 152 Neb. 867, 43 N.W.2d 174 (1950)
  • Nebraska: State ex rel. Meyer v. Duxbury, 183 Neb. 302, 160 N.W.2d 88 (1968)
  • Nebraska: State ex rel. Meyer v. Steen, 183 Neb. 297, 160 N.W.2d 164 (1968)
  • Nebraska: State ex rel. Meyer v. State Board of Equalization & Assessment, 185 Neb. 490, 176 N.W.2d 920 (1970)
  • Nebraska: Stahmer v. State, 192 Neb. 63, 218 N.W.2d 893 (1974)
  • Virginia: Virginia Division of Legislative Services, Virginia Legislative Issue Brief No. 15, “Binding the Hands of Future Legislators: The Nebraska v. Moore Case,“ July 1996

Federal Funds Appropriation
South Carolina: Casey Edwards and Justin Williams v. State of South Carolina, 2009

Receiving Information or Recommending Additions

If you have any questions, please contact Brenda Erickson.  Also, please contact Brenda if you would like to recommend legislative resources or case law that may enhance the Separation of Powers website.