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AGLO 1974 No. 25 - March 01, 1974
AGO Opinion Header Image
Slade Gorton | 1969-1980 | Attorney General of Washington

INITIATIVE NO. 276 ‑- LEGISLATURE ‑- BUDGET ‑- SUBMISSION OF BUDGET REQUEST TO LEGISLATURE

(1) When requested by a committee or member of the legislature, a state agency may disclose to that committee or member information relating to programming, revenue, spending or other fiscal matters involving that agency.

(2) The authorized means for state agencies to communicate their budget requests to the legislature in the absence of such a request by a committee or member of the legislature is through certain procedures set forth in the state budget and accounting act.

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                                                                   March 1, 1974

Honorable A. N. "Bud" Shinpoch
State Representative
361 Maple Avenue N.W.
Renton, Washington 98055                                                                                                               Cite as:  AGLO 1974 No. 25

Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged you have requested the opinion of this office on certain questions which we paraphrase as follows:

            (1) When requested by a committee or member of the legislature, may a state agency through its officers or employees disclose to that committee or member information relating to programming, revenue, spending or other fiscal matters involving that agency?

            (2) Assuming that question (1) is answerable in the affirmative, by what means may state agencies communicate their budget requests to the legislature in the absence of such a request by a committee or member of the legislature as is therein described?

            We answer question (1) in the affirmative and question (2) in the manner set forth in our analysis.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            Question (1):

            RCW 42.17.020(16), codifying a portion of § 2 of Initiative No. 276, defines the term "lobbying" to mean

            ". . . attempting to influence the passage or defeat of any legislation by the legislature of the state of Washington, or the adoption or rejection of any rule, standard, rate or other legislative enactment of any state agency under the state Administrative Procedure Acts, chapter 34.04 RCW and chapter 28B.19 RCW."

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            RCW 42.17.190(2) then states that:

            "Unless expressly authorized by law, no state funds shall be used directly or indirectly for lobbying:  Provided, This shall not prevent state officers or employees from communicating with a member of the legislature on the request of that member; or communicating to the legislature, through the proper official channels, requests for legislative action or appropriations which are deemed necessary for the efficient conduct of the public business or actually made in the proper performance of their official duties.Provided further, That this subsection shall not apply to the legislative branch."

            Under this subsection it will be seen that while state agencies continue to be prohibited from expending their funds for lobbying, unless expressly authorized by law to do so,1/ as exceptions to this prohibition they may communicate their views on pending or proposed legislation to the legislature under the following two distinct circumstances:

            (1) When providing information to a member of the legislature in response to the request of that member; and

            (2) When communicating to the legislature, through proper official channels, requests for legislative action or appropriations that are deemed necessary for the efficient conduct of the public business or actually made in performance of their official duties.

            Insofar as the first of these two exceptions is concerned, there of course remain instances, even under Initiative No. 276, in which certain information in the custody of a state agency may not be disclosed to even a member of the legislature because such disclosure would impair an individual's constitutionally or statutorily protected right of privacy or the like.2/   We can, however, conceive of little or no  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] likelihood that the kinds of budgetary and fiscal information apparently contemplated by your first question would include data of that type.  Accordingly, qualifying our response to your first question only to the extent of this rather remote possibility, our direct answer thereto is as follows.

            When requested by a committee or member of the legislature, a state agency through its officers or employees may disclose to that committee or member information relating to programming, revenue, spending, or other fiscal matters of the agency unless a disclosure of the particular information requested would be violative of some specific constitutional or statutory prohibition applicable even where the disclosure is made to a member of the state legislature.

            Question (2):

            Your second question assumes the foregoing answer to question (1) and asks,

            ". . . by what means may state agencies communicate their budget request to the legislature in the absence of such a request by a committee or member of the legislature as it is therein described."

            Within the context of RCW 42.17.190(2), supra, it will readily be seen that what this question really involves is an identification of what may be said to constitute "the proper official channels" for the submission of budget requests to the legislature by state agencies.

            While the term "official channels" is not defined in Initiative No. 276, it should, in our judgment, be interpreted to mean whatever official channels might exist, both in the branch of government through which the request is submitted as well as the legislature itself.  Thus, an agency must look first to its own statutes and internal policies to ascertain existence of any "official channels" for submitting legislation.  Beyond this, however, we believe (and have previously advised informally) that the statutory "official channel" for the initial submission of biennial appropriation requests by state agencies is that which is provided for in the state Budget and Accounting Act, chapter 43.88 RCW.  Accord, our prior letter to you of December 12, 1973.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 4]]

            Therefore, while we most definitely do not find in the Budget and Accounting Act any prohibition against the disclosure of such information as is contemplated by your first question, supra, by a state agency when requested by a committee or member of the legislature, it is our opinion that in the absence of such a request a state agency may only communicate its budget requests to the legislature through such bedget messages and/or documents as are submitted by the governor, in coordination with the office of program planning and fiscal management, in the manner provided for in that act.

            We trust that the foregoing will be of some assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

SLADE GORTON
Attorney General

PHILIP H. AUSTIN
Deputy Attorney General

                                                         ***   FOOTNOTES   ***

1/Accord, our prior opinion of March 4, 1969, to then State Senator Elmer Huntley, copy enclosed.

2/See RCW 42.17.310 and AGO 1973 No. 4 [[to Robert E. Schillberg, Prosecuting Attorney, Snohomish County on January 19, 1973]].

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