An appropriation law is a statute in which the specific and primary function is to authorize the release of public funds from the treasury. A public works act and the yearly general appropriations act are examples of appropriation measures.
Appropriation measures are classified into two: general and specific. A general appropriations law is passed annually to provide for the financial operations of the whole government during one fiscal period. On the other hand, a special appropriation law is only for a specific purpose, such as construction of a national highway.
An appropriation law in order to be valid must be devoted for public purpose. No public money shall be spent for private gains only. For example, an appropriation for the construction of roads inside a private subdivision is not allowed. (Pascual vs. Secretary of Public Works and Communications).
Another requirement of a valid appropriation is that the sum authorized to be released must be determinate or at least determinable. Otherwise, the national treasurer will have no guide or worse, will have unlimited discretion in the release of public funds. Ideally, the law must appropriate a fixed amount, but it is sufficient if only the maximum is indicated. But where the minimum rather than the maximum is specified, as where there is an appropriation of "not less than one million pesos", the measure is invalid for lack of certainty. Here the national treasurer is in effect authorized to release from the treasury any amount in excess of one million pesos. (Cruz, 2002).
The following are limitations set forth in the Constitution:
- All appropriations bill shall originate from the House of Representatives.
- Discretionary funds appropriated for particular officials shall be disbursed only for public purpose to be supported by appropriate vouchers and subject to guidelines as may be prescribed by law.
- Special appropriations bill shall specify the purpose for which it is intended and shall be supported by funds actually available as certified by the National Treasurer, or to be raised by a corresponding revenue proposal included therein.
- The Congress shall not increase the general appropriations recommended by the President. Form, content and manner of preparation of the budget shall be prescribed by law.
- No "riders" or irrelevant provisions shall be included in the general appropriations bill.
- The procedure in approving the appropriations for the Congress shall strictly follow the same procedure for approving appropriations for other departments and agencies.
- Transfer of appropriations shall not be allowed but the President, Senate President, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Chief Justice and heads of Constitutional Commissions may be authorized to augment any item in the general appropriations law for their respective agencies from savings in other items of their respective appropriations.
- Prohibition against the use of public funds or property for sectarian purposes.
- Old general appropriations act is deemed re-enacted if the Congress fails to pass a new general appropriations bill.
- All money collected on any tax levied for a special purpose shall be treated as a special fund and paid out for such purpose only.