Common Cause v. Tomblin

In Common Cause v. Tomblin, 186 W. Va. 537, 413 S.E.2d 358 (1991), the Court addressed why the intrinsic need for flexibility renders completely unworkable a detailed line item budget bill. Common Cause, 186 W. Va. at 541-42, 413 S.E.2d at 362-63. Due to the "nearly impossible task of allocating severely limited money among competing ends" the amounts requested by the various departments and agencies through the budget document are often not the same amounts as those finally allocated through the enacted budget bill. Id. at 540, 413 S.E.2d at 361. Moreover, as the Court discussed in Common Cause, the expenditures requested by individual departments or agencies at the time the budget document is first prepared can become moot or may be reprioritized due to unanticipated needs that only surface after the budget requests for the next year are first prepared. See Common Cause, 186 W. Va. at 541-42, 413 S.E.2d at 362-63. This is where the budget digest serves an important purpose in the whole budgetary process. As the Court explained in Common Cause, inevitable changes in needs for funding between the time when the budget document is first presented and when the budget bill is ultimately passed renders completely impossible the use of a "carved in stone" line item type of budget bill. The Court opined in Common Cause that the use of such an approach "would perpetrate an evil even greater than the evil petitioners seek to redress." 186 W. Va. at 542, 413 S.E.2d at 363. In Common Cause, the Court addressed this same argument in acknowledging that "executive branch employees may feel peculiarly bound to follow its budget digest dictates." Id. at 542, 413 S.E.2d at 363. Rather than determining that this perceived obligation to follow the suggestions set forth in the budget digest elevated the digest to "having the force and effect of law," however, the Court emphasized the need to follow the dictates of the budget digest statute and its specific requirement that the digest "must be approved by majority vote of a quorum of all the budget conferees pursuant to a meeting regularly called after the passage of the budget bill." Id.