Separation of Powers - Appropriation Powers



  • Brenda Erickson
  • Kae Warnock
  • If you have any questions, please contact Brenda in NCSL's Denver office at (303) 364-7700.  Also, please email us if you would like to recommend legislative resources or case law that may enhance the Separation of Powers website.
Picture of Scales

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.


Connecticut: Attorney General’s Opinion, response to Representative Edward C. Krawiecki, Jr.’s question "whether the Governor may act, through executive order, to appropriate and expend state monies by authorizing the continuation of government operations," November 1991
 Federal: Congressional Research Service, Overview of the Authorization-Appropriations Process, June 2008 
Federal: Congressional Research Service, The Congressional Appropriations Process: An Introduction, February 2007
 Maryland: Department of Legislative Services Budget and Fiscal Policy, Operating Budget Documents, 2011-2013
 Maryland: Department of Legislative Services Budget and Fiscal Policy, Capital Budget Documents, 2011
Maryland: Department of Legislative Services Budget and Fiscal Policy, Budget Documents and Data, (includes Capital Improvement Plans 2005-2018)
Michigan: Michigan House Fiscal Agency, A Guide to the Legislative Appropriation Process, September 2008
Minnesota: Senate Counsel, Research and Fiscal Policy Office, The Budget Process in the Legislature, March 2003
Minnesota: Senate Counsel, Research and Fiscal Policy Office, Legislative History of Unallotment Power, June 2009
Minnesota: Senate Counsel, Research and Fiscal Policy Office, Omnibus Bills and Garbage Bills, April 2005
Minnesota: Senate Counsel, Research and Fiscal Policy Office, Power of the Purse in Minnesota, July 2007
Minnesota: Minnesota House Research Department, Unallotment—Executive Branch Power to Reduce Spending to Avoid a Deficit, March 2008
Minnesota: Minnesota Legislative Commission on Planning and Fiscal Policy, Statutory Appropriations Guidelines, December 2002
Mississippi: Attorney General’s Opinion, “Authority to Spend Funds After June 30, 2009,” June 2009
NCSL: Budget Procedures
NCSL: General Overview of Legislative vs. Executive Appropriations Issues, August 2009
NCSL: Executive Authority to Cut the Enacted Budget, September 2008
North Dakota: Attorney General’s Opinion, “N.D.A.G. Letter to Yockim,” February 1990
Washington: Attorney General’s Opinion AGO 49-51 No. 268, “Control of Appropriations by the Legislature,” May 1950
Wisconsin: Wisconsin Legislative Council, Wisconsin Legislator Briefing Book, 2013-14, “Chapter 4 - Budget Process”
Wyoming: Wyoming Department of Administration & Information Budget Division, Gubernatorial Appropriation Authority
Transfer of Appropriations
Idaho: Attorney General’s Opinion, “(1) Non-Cognizable Funds Pursuant to I.C. § 67-3516; and (2) Transfer of Appropriations Between Departments,” February 1992
Illinois: County of Cook v. Ogilvie, 50 Ill. 2d 379, 280 N.E.2d 224 (1972) 
Michigan: Michigan Senate Fiscal Agency Memorandum, Transfer of Enacted Appropriations, October 2009
South Dakota: South Dakota Legislative Research Council, Issue Memorandum 98-06, “Transfer of Appropriations,” April 1998
Washington: Attorney General’s Opinion AGO 53-55 No. 308, “Necessity of Appropriation Authorizing Transfer of Moneys in the OASI Contribution Fund,” September 1954
Federal Funds Appropriation
Iowa: Iowa House Standing Committee on Budget, Final Report of the State Appropriation of Federal Funds Subcommittee of the House Standing Committee on Budget, 1978
Minnesota: Minnesota House Fiscal Analysis Department, Legislative Review of State Agency Requests to Spend Federal Funds, October 2007
NCSL: Legislative Appropriations Authority and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, February 2009
New Mexico: New Mexico Legislative Council Service, Information Memorandum No. 202.148137, July 2003
South Dakota: South Dakota Legislative Research Council, Issue Memorandum 97-13, “A History of Special Appropriations,” August 2000
West Virginia: West Virginia Code, Article 11 Legislative Appropriation of Federal Funds

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: Multiple Parties v. Governor of MN, 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)
(For brief description of each case, go to the following link for Annotated Nebraska Constitution Article III, Section 22
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 in NCSL's Denver office at (303) 364-7700.  Also, please contact Brenda if you would like to recommend legislative resources or case law that may enhance the Separation of Powers website.