The following opinion is presented on-line for informational use only and does not replace the official version. (Mich Dept of Attorney General Web Site - www.ag.state.mi.us)



STATE OF MICHIGAN

FRANK J. KELLEY, ATTORNEY GENERAL


APPROPRIATIONS:

LEGISLATURE:

SOIL CONSERVATION DISTRICT:

Appropriation of funds for soil conservation districts


Soil conservation districts may pay their necessary expenses from appropriations made for those purposes, from money provided by local governmental units, and from contributions provided by the United States or its agencies.

A soil conservation district may not compel the Legislature to appropriate funds for the payment of district expenses. The decision to appropriate such funds, as well as the amounts thereof, rests within the exclusive discretion of the Legislature.

The determination of what constitutes a soil conservation district's necessary expenses under section 9313 of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act (NREPA) is made by each respective district's board of directors, subject, however, to review by the Department of Agriculture, and provided that such expenses fall within the purview of section 8 of the NREPA.


Opinion No. 6999

November 24, 1998


Honorable Allen Lowe
State Representative
The Capitol
Lansing, MI


You have asked three questions regarding the funding of soil conservation districts and the payment of their necessary expenses.

The creation of soil conservation districts was authorized by the Legislature in 1937 PA 297, section 5, which was subsequently codified into the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act (NREPA), 1994 PA 451, Part 93, MCL 324.9301 et seq; MSA 13A.9301 et seq. The Michigan Department of Agriculture oversees the operation of soil conservation districts. Section 9304.

Your first question asks from what sources may soil conservation districts obtain funds from which to pay their necessary expenses.

Section 9313 of the NREPA, which mandates that soil conservation district expenses be paid from appropriations, provides as follows:

The necessary expenses of the state soil conservation committee and any soil conservation districts shall be made from appropriations made for those purposes.

An appropriation is the setting aside of a specified sum of money or fund in the state treasury to be used for some governmental expenditure, purchase or expense. Bds of County Road Comm'rs v Bd of State Canvassers, 50 Mich App 89, 95-96; 213 NW2d 298 (1973), aff'd 391 Mich 666; 218 NW2d 144 (1974); 1 OAG, 1955, No 2249, pp 565, 567 (October 25, 1955). Const 1963, art 9,  17, prohibits the payment of money from the state treasury "except in pursuance of appropriations by law." Appropriations must be made by the Legislature or by the people in the state constitution. Civil Service Comm v Auditor General, 302 Mich 673, 679; 5 NW2d 536 (1942).

Section 9313 does not create any obligation on the Legislature to appropriate any amount to soil conservation districts. Grand Traverse County v Michigan, 450 Mich 457, 464-465; 538 NW2d 1 (1995). The language in this section must be read as merely expressing an intent to appropriate in the future and not as itself an appropriation. Oakland Schools Bd of Education v Superintendent of Public Instruction, 392 Mich 613, 620; 221 NW2d 345 (1974).

The NREPA also empowers a county, township, municipality or other local unit to cooperate with a soil conservation district and to assist the district "with such materials, equipment, money, personnel, and other services as the governmental unit considers advisable." (Emphasis added.) Section 9310(2). The board of directors of a soil conservation district may also "accept donations, gifts and contributions in money. . . from the United States or any of its agencies" to carry out "its operations subject to the policies and procedures adopted by the state soil conservation committee." (Emphasis added.) Section 9308(1)(i).

Nothing in the NREPA limits the funding of soil conservation districts to appropriations made by the Legislature. On the contrary, section 9310(2) authorizes local governmental units to provide funding for such districts. Moreover, section 9308(1)(i) authorizes soil conservation districts to accept contributions from federal agencies.

It is my opinion, therefore, in answer to your first question, that soil conservation districts may pay their necessary expenses from appropriations made for those purposes, from money provided by local governmental units, and from contributions provided by the United States or its agencies.

Your second question asks whether a soil conservation district can compel the Legislature to appropriate public funds for the payment of district expenses.

The Legislature has the sole prerogative of appropriating public funds to the Department of Agriculture for grants to soil conservation districts. See, Civil Service Comm v Auditor General, supra, 302 Mich at 688. The Michigan Supreme Court has acknowledged that it "lacks the power to require the Legislature to appropriate funds." Musselman v Governor, 448 Mich 503, 522; 533 NW2d 237 (1995). As noted above, section 9313 of the NREPA merely expresses an intent to appropriate in the future.

For the fiscal year 1997-1998, the Legislature has appropriated the sum of $1,763,100 for soil conservation districts. 1997 PA 103, section 101. In section 602 of 1997 PA 103, the Legislature has specified that the grants to the districts be "allocated according to a formula approved by the commission of agriculture" to permit districts to engage in programs for conservation of soil resources and to prevent and control soil erosion.

It is my opinion, therefore, in answer to your second question, that a soil conservation district may not compel the Legislature to appropriate funds for the payment of district expenses. The decision to appropriate such funds, as well as the amounts thereof, rests within the exclusive discretion of the Legislature.

Your third question asks who determines what constitutes a soil conservation district's necessary expenses under section 9313 of the NREPA.

The first step in ascertaining legislative intent is to look to the language of the statute. Piper v Pettibone Corp, 450 Mich 565, 571; 542 NW2d 269 (1995). Under the NREPA, the governing body of a soil conservation district is a board of directors composed of five persons, two of whom are appointed by the Department of Agriculture. Section 9307(1). Programs of a soil conservation district are subject to approval by the state soil conservation committee. Section 9304(4)(c). The powers and duties of a soil conservation district board, which are set forth in section 9308, include hiring employees, determining their compensation, entering into agreements with other persons and entities, and purchasing real property. It follows that this grant of authority by the Legislature to soil conservation district boards includes the initial determination of what district expenses constitute necessary expenses.

The Legislature has also directed that soil conservation district boards of directors maintain financial records of receipts and disbursements, and make such records available for review by the Department of Agriculture. Section 9307(5). In addition, the Legislature has mandated annual audits of soil conservation district receipts and disbursements. Id.

It is my opinion, therefore, in answer to your third question, that the determination of what constitutes a soil conservation district's necessary expenses under section 9313 of the NREPA is made by each respective district's board of directors, subject, however, to review by the Department of Agriculture, and provided that such expenses fall within the purview of section 9308 of the NREPA.


FRANK J. KELLEY
Attorney General