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January 14, 1970
Honorable Fred H. Dore
State Senator, 37th District
Olympia, Washington 98501
Cite as: AGLO 1970 No. 4
Dear Senator Dore:
By letter dated January 12, 1970, you requested the opinion of this office as to the "constitutionality and/or legality" of the recent decision of the director of the department of public assistance to implement a plan of program changes with respect to the expenditure of funds appropriated to the department of public assistance for the 1969-71 biennium, as more fully set forth in a document headed "Appropriation Balancing Program," referred to in your letter.
Following receipt of your request we ascertained that the director of public assistance, following consultations with the Governor and the Budget Director, determined to implement these program changes primarily for the reasons that court decisions eliminating durational residence requirements and maximum grants, increased unemployment, and an unusually heavy case load in the category of aid to families with dependent children, had resulted in a rate of expenditure which would have exceeded the appropriation for public assistance for the 1969-71 biennium. In addition, the director had determined that department expenditures were exceeding the allotment established by the office of program planning and fiscal management under the requirements of the state budget and accounting act. In other words, simply stated, the determination was made that the program changes in question would have to be put into effect if the total amounts to be expended by the department during the 1969-71 biennium were to stay within the limits set by the legislature in making its appropriation for that fiscal period.
Of course, it is fundamental that the amount of an appropriation constitutes a limitation upon the amount which the agency to which the appropriation is made can expend for the purposes specified therein. See, Washington Constitution Article VIII, § 4 (Amendment 11). An "appropriation" is simply an authority from the legislature, given at the proper time, and in legal form, to the proper officer, to supply sums of money out of that which may be in the treasury in a given year to specified objects or demands against the state. State ex rel. Pub. Co. v. Lindsley, 3 Wash. 125, 127, 27 Pac. 1019 (1891).
[[Orig. Op. Page 2]]
We have carefully examined the provisions of the current 1969-71 appropriation to the department of public assistance, as set forth in § 1, chapter 282, Laws of 1969, Ex. Sess., at pages 2735-2738, and we are enclosing herewith a xerox copy of the appropriation item for your immediate reference. The critical point to be noted in reading the text of the appropriation item is that, consistent with the usual form of an appropriation, it simply authorizes the expenditure of an amount not in excess of the total amount of the appropriation. While there are certain sub‑limitations expressed in the appropriation with respect to the amounts which may be expended for various public assistance programs, the appropriation does not purport to require that any specific amount or amounts be expended on any given programs.
In reviewing this appropriation in order to ascertain legislative intent with respect to the manner in which the appropriated funds are to be expended, we must bear in mind the well-established rule that legislative intent not expressed in some appropriate manner has no legal existence. State ex rel. Gebhardt v. Superior Court, 15 Wn.2d 673, 131 P.2d 943 (1942). Consistent with this rule, we may only glean legislative intent from the appropriation itself and not from any other sources. In this context, we note, in addition to the above described lack of any mandate in the appropriation that given amounts of funds be expended for specified programs, that the appropriation act contains a general prohibition applicable to all appropriations contained therein, that,
". . . It shall be unlawful for any officer or employee to incur obligations in excess of approved allotments or to incur a deficiency . . ."1/
Based upon the foregoing, it is our opinion that the program changes of the director of the department of public assistance, to which you have referred, violate no provisions of our state Constitution relating to the appropriation authority vested in the legislature ‑ and that these program [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] changes are wholly consistent with the legislative intent as expressed in the appropriation to the department of public assistance for the 1969-71 biennium.
We trust that the foregoing will be of assistance to you.
Very truly yours,
WALTER E. WHITE
Assistant Attorney General
*** FOOTNOTES ***
1/See, § 6, chapter 282, Laws of 1969, Ex. Sess.