Laws, Treaties, and Appropriations



If legislation is the shape and form of government then funding is its life blood.  The primary function of a government is to govern.  In order to do this it passes laws, and enters into treaties with other governments, etc.   Besides foreign governments, treaties are also executed between international organization and agencies such as the United Nations.   To support the infrastructure necessary to govern, a government collects taxes, develops budgets, and disperses funding in the form appropriations and grants.    Each nation,  international organization, state, etc. handles these processes slightly differently, but all this activity generates reams of paperwork.


As long as people have lived communally, there have been laws.  The earliest known book of laws dates from around 2100 B.C. from the City-State of Ur in the Middle East.  The Babylonians, Egyptians, Greeks, Chinese, and Romans all had codified laws.  The Roman Legal Code compiled by Justinian in the 6th Century has heavily influenced the American Law just as it has that of most of the European nations.  Although the Justinian Code influenced American Law, the root of American legal code is the British Common Law.   From this, Federal, State and Local governments have developed and codified the laws that govern us today.  These laws are constantly changing and evolving, as society changes and evolves.  [Law. Legal Dictionary]  A short definition of Law is: 

...a rule of conduct or action prescribed or formally recognized as binding or enforced by a controlling authority  [Merriam-Webster]

 a slightly longer definition is:

 …principles and regulations established in a community by some authority and applicable to its people, whether in the form of legislation or of custom and policies recognized and enforced by judicial decision...  [Define Law]

All laws start as an idea.  In the United States, the idea in the form of a bill goes through the following basic steps on its way to becoming a law.


  • It is proposed
  • It is studied
  • It is debated
  • It is voted
  • It is signed

"In a typical year, more than 5,000 bills are introduced in Congress.  But only about 150 of them become law." [How a Bill Becomes Law]  Not all bills proposed become law, but how a bill becomes law is much the same on the federal, state, and local levels.  Other countries use other methods to create laws.



International Law is based on a network of binding agreements.  While examples of these agreements exist from the time of the Egyptians, it is only recently that they are becoming increasingly codified.  Called by various names including treaty, convention, protocol, pact, accord, understanding, etc., what it is called does not affect its legal standing.    A treaty is defined as a:

“a formal agreement between two or more nations, relating to peace, alliance, trade, etc.”  [Your Dictionary]

According to the United Nations

… the term "treaty" is reserved for matters of some gravity that require more solemn agreements. Their signatures are usually sealed and they normally require ratification. Typical examples of international instruments designated as "treaties" are Peace Treaties, Border Treaties, Delimitation Treaties, Extradition Treaties and Treaties of Friendship, Commerce and Cooperation. [United Nations Treaty Collection] 

The terms convention, protocol, pact, accord, understanding, etc. are generally employed when the subject matter is less formal in nature.

The U.S. Constitution defines what a “treaty” is and it is a much narrower definition then that standardly accepted on the international level.  Under the Constitution, a treaty although it is entered into by the President must be agreed to by the Senate.  To bypass the getting the approval of the Legislative branch, the President can enter into an "Executive Agreements" with leaders of other countries.  In the U.S. these agreements although they do lay out areas of cooperation do not carry the same legal standing as treaties.  Only the Federal Government can enter in to treaties under the Constitution.   States governments can enter into “agreements”, etc. with other states, foreign governments, and entities with the consent of Congress.  [The Free Dictionary by Farlex]

Treaties are written.   Most treaties follow a standard format.

The Preamble which gives the names of the nations, etc. involved, a summary statement of the aim of the treaty, and list of the persons empowered to negotiate the treaty and who has empowered them to do this.

The Articles which lay out the specific terms of the agreement

Statement of how the treaty will ratified and setting the time and place for exchange of ratifications.

Place for signatures/seals, etc. of the signatories.

Amendments can be added to the document with appropriate signatures attesting to the changes but only before the treaty is signed.  Any changes after signing, requires a new agreement.  Treaties generally go into effect upon ratification, and are in effect until all parties involved agree to dissolve it or as specified in the original treaty.  War between the principals does not necessarily cancel a treaty.  In the past there was an all or nothing aspect to treaties, signatories had agreed to all the articles if signing it.  This is changing, as treaties have become more complex and the number of parties involved has increased, signatories are increasing agreeing and signing only portions of a treaty.  [The Free Dictionary by Farlex]  The United States includes in all its treaties the wording to the effect that it agrees only to the extent that it does not violate the U.S. Constitution.  []



Funding government activities on the Federal level begins with the president’s budget and ends with signed appropriation bills.  Under the Constitution "no money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law; and a regular Statement and Account of Receipts and Expenditures of all public Money shall be published from time to time."   [United States Federal Budget]  The U.S. Government can spend more then it takes in the form of taxes, etc. and has for some time.   The Budget of the United States is the President’s proposed spending levels for the next fiscal year.  Appropriation Bills are Congress’ response to the President’s proposal.    The President submits to Congress a budget for the upcoming fiscal year and Congress after committee hearing, etc. generates a series of appropriation bills to allocate funding to the various government agencies and programs.  The President must approve these bills in order to fund the Federal Government for next fiscal year.  [United States Federal Budget]

Most states unlike the federal government must have a balanced budget.  They can not spend more than the state has collected in revenue through taxes and fees, etc.  [State Balanced Budget Requirements:  Executive Summary]   States generally divide their budgets into two types Capital and Operating.  Capital budgets cover concrete items such things as building bridges and roads, equipment, land acquisition, etc.  Capital budgets are generally for a limited time period.  In some states it may also include funding to local governments and public authorities for infrastructure improvements such as economic development.  [Appendix:  State Capital Budgeting]   Operating Budgets on the other hand cover ongoing funding needs of the state and its agencies for such things as salaries.  [Definition of a Municipal Operating Budget]

The focus of this section is on the Federal Government and how it handles Laws, Treaties, and Appropriations.  The information presented is from U.S. perspective.  Especially with treaties, such as executive agreements, how the U.S. views the agreement and how the rest of the world views it may vary.  There is also information on how the State of Ohio handles enacting laws, and the budget process.  Remember a state can not under the Constitution enter into a "Treaty". 




Appendix:  State Capital Budgeting.  State Expenditure Report.  National Association of State Budget Officers.

The Budget Process Today.  Nick Ragone.  Netplaces.  

Citizens’ Guide to Local Budgets.   New York State. Office of the New York State Comptroller.  Division of Local Government and School Accountability.   December 2010.

Definitions.  United Nations Treaty Collection. 

Definition of a Municipal Operating Budget.

How a Bill Becomes Law.  Scholastic Inc.

Law.  Define Law at 

Law.  Legal Dictionary. 

Law.  Merriam-Webster.

State Balanced Budget Requirements:  Executive Summary.  National Conference of State Legislatures – NCSL. 

Treaty.  The Free Dictionary by Farlex. 

Treaty.  Legal Dictionary.

Treaty.  Your Dictionary.

Treaty – Definition. 


Further Reading

Definitions.  United Nations Treaty Collection. 

Law.  Legal Dictionary. 

Treaties.  Duke Law. 

Treaties and International Agreements.  University of California Berkeley.  Library. 

Treaty.  The Free Dictionary by Farlex. 

Treaty.  Legal Dictionary. 

UPDate:  An Introduction for Treaty Research.  Mark Engsberg and Mary Beth Chappell.  New York University School of Law.  Hauser Global Law School Program.