North Carolina Department of Justice
North Carolina Department of Justice
North Carolina Department of Justice
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December 18, 1998

H. Martin Lancaster President NC Community College System 200 West Jones Street Raleigh, NC 27603-1379

Re: Advisory Opinion; Matching Fund Requirements for the 1998 Capital Appropriations for Community Colleges; 1998 N.C. Sess. Laws c. 212, sec. 29; G.S. § 115D-31(a)(1).

Dear President Lancaster:

On November 23, 1998, you wrote to ask for the Attorney General's opinion as to whether, pursuant to G.S. § 115D-31(a)(1), local community colleges were required to provide matching funds before the State Board can release money appropriated for community college capital improvements under the 1998 N.C. Sess. Laws c. 212, sec. 29 (the 1998 Appropriations Bill). Having reviewed the pertinent statutes and the 1998 Appropriations Bill, it is our opinion that the State Board is obligated to require local community colleges to provide matching funds before it disburses capital improvement money from the 1998 Appropriations Bill.

The cardinal rule of statutory construction is that a statute must be construed to effectuate the intent of the legislature. State v. Hart, 287 N.C. 76, 213 S.E.2d 291 (1975). In order to discern the legislative intent, courts look to the language of the statute, its spirit and its purpose. State ex rel. North Carolina Milk Com. v. National Food Stores, Inc., 270 N.C, 323, 154 S.E.2d 548 (1967). The intent of the legislature must be found from the language of the act, its legislative history and the circumstances surrounding its adoption. Id. Words are generally given their ordinary meaning, and courts will construe words in accordance with their meaning at the time of enactment. Southern Bell Tel. & Tel. Co. v. Clayton, 266 N.C. 687, 147 S.E.2d 195 (1966).

Moreover, the intention of the legislature cannot be shown by the testimony of a member; it must be drawn from the construction of its acts. Styers v. Phillips, 277 N.C. 460, 472, 178 S.E.2d 583, 590 (1971); D & W Inc. v. Charlotte, 268 N.C. 577, 581, 151 S.E.2d 241, 244 (1966); Bell Arthur Water Corp. v. North Carolina Dept. of Transp., 101 N.C. App. 305, 310, 399 S.E.2d 353, 356 (1991). Thus, individual legislators' opinions regarding the General Assembly's intent when enacting a particular piece of legislation have no legal significance. The General Assembly's intent and the meaning of legislation must be drawn from the language of the act and other objectively verifiable evidence.

In light of those rules of statutory construction, we first turn our attention to G.S. § 115D31(a)(1) which states:

(a)
The State Board of Community Colleges shall be responsible for providing, from sources available to the State Board, funds to meet the financial needs of institutions, as determined by policies and regulations of the State Board, for the following budget items:
(1)
Plant Fund.--Furniture and equipment for administrative and instructional purposes, library books, and other items of capital outlay approved by the State Board. Provided, the State Board

may, on an equal matching-fund basis from appropriations made by the State for the purpose, grant funds to individual institutions for the purchase of land, construction and remodeling of institutional buildings determined by the State Board to be necessary for the instructional programs or administration of such institutions. (Emphasis added). The plain language of this statute generally authorizes the State Board of Community Colleges to adopt policies and regulations to control the disbursement of funds "available to the State Board" to the local community colleges. Thus, for example, with respect to furniture, library books and "other items of capital outlay" the State Board may approve disbursements in accordance with its own policies and regulations.

In the case of capital outlays for land, construction and remodeling, however, the General Assembly expressly restricted the State Board's discretion. With respect to the disbursement of funds for capital improvements, G.S. § 115D-31(a)(1) specifically provides:

[T]he State Board may, on an equal matching-fund basis from appropriations made by the State for the purpose, grant funds to individual institutions for the purchase of land, construction and remodeling of institutional buildings determined by the State Board to be necessary for the instructional programs or administration of such institutions.

In our opinion, this provision indicates the General Assembly's intent to impose on the State Board the affirmative obligation to require local colleges to provide equal matching funds before the State Board disburses funds for the purchase of land, construction and remodeling of institutional buildings.

This construction of G.S. § 115D-31(a)(1) is consistent with the General Assembly's prior capital appropriations for community colleges. On occasion, in prior capital appropriation bills, the General Assembly has expressly stated either that some funds appropriated for specific capital improvements on community college campuses were not subject to matching requirements or that the matching requirement had been satisfied. E.g., 1985 N.C. Sess. Laws c. 757, sec. 150 and 151; 1988 Sess. Laws c. 1086, sec. 68. Thus, it appears that the General Assembly is aware of the general requirement that local community colleges must provide matching funds in order to receive disbursements from state capital appropriations

We believe that this interpretation of G.S. § 115D-31(a)(1) controls the State Board's authority with respect to the disbursement of funds from the general capital appropriation in the 1998 Appropriations Bill. We understand that the appropriations for community college capital projects in the 1998 Appropriations Bill have been placed in accounts with the State Office of Budget and Management. The State Board of Community Colleges is responsible for the administration of those accounts. The State Board must approve the projects, the invoices for the projects and draw the checks before money can be disbursed from those accounts.

In light of the fact that the State Board controls the administration of the funds appropriated for the projects specified in the 1998 Appropriations Bill, it is our opinion that the State Board can only disburse the funds consistent with its authority under G.S. § 115D-31(a)(1). In the language of G.S. § 115D-31(a), the 1998 capital appropriations are funds "from sources available to the State Board" which the State Board may "grant to the individual institutions for .the purchase of land, construction and remodeling of institutional buildings" "on an equal matching-fund basis."

Therefore, it is our opinion that the funds appropriated for capital projects in the 1998 Appropriations Bill are subject to the general matching requirements of G.S. § 115D-31(1)(a).

signed by:

Grayson G. Kelley Senior Deputy Attorney General

Thomas J. Ziko

Special Deputy Attorney General