UPDATED: Cuccinelli says state grants to charities are unconstitutional
Virginia may not give state funds to private charities as Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) has proposed in a series of amendments to the two-year budget, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II said in an opinion issued Friday.
Cuccinelli (R) was responding to a request by Del. John M. O'Bannon III (R-Henrico) who asked on behalf of constituent Norman Leahy, who has been critical of the proposed spending on the blog Tertium Quids. Leahy believes contributions to private groups violates a section of the Virginia Constitution that giving tax dollars to charitable organizations not controlled by the state.
"The attorney general has issued an opinion that the Constitution of Virginia does not permit giving state funds to non-state agencies,'' O'Bannon said. "Regardless of one's views on the merits of including such funding in the budget, it is imperative that we follow the provisions of the Constitution. It would be a mistake to ignore this opinion or to pursue extra-constitutional ways to work around it. We now have two choices: abide by the rules or amend the Constitution to change them."
McDonnell has proposed the state give $500,000 to Operation Smile, Hampton Roads-based charity that helps children with facial deformities, and another $500,000 to Virginia's food banks. He's also suggested they spend $1 million to promote OpSail 2012, a tourist event that will bring tall sailing ships to ports along the Eastern seaboard to commemorate the War of 1812.
State lawmakers have for years gotten around the provision by classifying charities as "historical" or "cultural" agencies." But Cuccinelli writes, "The Virginia Constitution forbids the General Assembly from making 'any appropriation of public funds, personal property, or real estate...to any charitable institution which is not owned or controlled by the Commonwealth.' ''
UPDATE 5:20 p.m.: McDonnell spokesman Jeff Caldwell responds: "The Governor appreciates the Attorney General's efforts to provide legal clarity to this issue. As the opinion outlines, this is a practice of the General Assembly that has existed for many years."
"The Administration will review this opinion and its potential consequences in depth before offering specific comment. However, while that review process is underway, the Governor requests the General Assembly join him to ensure that all appropriations and pending budget amendments conform to the Constitution. The Administration will follow this same policy while we make final determinations as to the specific steps and decisions that may be necessary in light of this opinion."
| January 28, 2011; 1:37 PM ET
Categories: Anita Kumar, Budget, General Assembly 2011, House of Delegates, Ken Cuccinelli, State Senate
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