by Dick Hall-Sizemore
For many years, the most interesting and fun portion of the state Appropriation Act was a section near the end entitled, “State Grants to Nonstate Entities-Nonstate Agencies.” The 2000 Appropriation Act, appropriating almost $36 million for these nonstate entities, is a good example. It included funding for historic courthouses, local museums and historical societies, and the houses of Founding Fathers, as well as for larger, statewide museums and organizations.
Most of the amounts provided were small, especially in the context of the overall Appropriation Act. However, they were important to the local recipients and served to add to the political capital of the local legislators who sponsored the appropriations.
In 2011, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli threw what seemed to be a monkey wrench into this process. In an official opinion, he declared that such appropriations, although they may “serve noble purposes,” were in violation of the state constitution. Article IV, Section 16, of the Virginia Constitution plainly prohibits “any appropriation of public funds, personal property, or real estate…to any charitable institution which is not owned or controlled by the Commonwealth.” For years the legislature had operated under the legal fiction that such appropriations were not to “charitable” organizations, but for “historical” or “cultural” ones. Indeed the title of the budget program used for these appropriations is “Financial Assistance for Cultural and Artistic Affairs.” The Attorney General’s opinion ended that charade. Continue reading