Judicial Council Decisions Search
Decision No. 673
May 13 1992
In Re: Legality of General Conference Instructions to the General Council on Finance and Administration to Prepare a Proposed Budget Within Specified Limits.
Digest of Case
The General Conference cannot legally impose a limit on the General Council on Finance and Administration quadrennial budget recommendations to the General Conference. Any change must be done by established legislative processes.
Statement of Facts
During the 1992 session of the General Conference, a motion was adopted to petition the Judicial Council for a declaratory decision "as to the legality of the General Conference setting a limit, either in dollar amount or percentage increase, for the total cap that the GCFA shall use in setting the GCFA recommendations for amounts of all funds, in total, provided for in Paragraph 906.1 of the Discipline." At an oral hearing held on May 14, Jerry Brewster, maker of the motion to request the decision, appeared before the Council. Ewing Werlein, Jr. and William K. Quick also appeared, representing the Legislative Committee on Financial Administration and speaking in support of the petitioner. Craig Hoskins represented the General Council on Finance and Administration. Bishop Joseph Yeakel, who was presiding over the General Conference business session when the reports of the General Council on Finance and Administration and the Legislative Committee on Financial Administration were considered, also appeared before the Council for the purpose of providing information. JURISDICTION The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under ¶ 2615 of the 1988 Discipline. Analysis Under 1988 Discipline ¶ 906.1 the General Council on Finance and Administration must submit to the General Conference budgets for the General Funds of the denomination. Par. 906.1(a) states, "The Council shall make recommendations to the General Conference as to the amount and distribution of all funds." The power of the General Council on Finance and Administration to recommend amounts and distribution of all funds is plenary; the method by which the General Council on Finance and Administration shall proceed in developing budget recommendations is contained in ¶ 906.1(b)(1-7). Conference Rule XIV requires the General Council on Finance and Administration recommendations be submitted to the editor of the Daily Christian Advocate 120 days prior to the opening of the General Conference. Rule VIII(c)(5) requires the "budget and recommendations prepared by the General Council on Finance and Administration [to] be submitted to . . . [the] Financial Administration Committee for study and review." We hold the 1988 Discipline requires and the rules contemplate that the General Council on Finance and Administration to have plenary authority, within the strictures of ¶ 906.1(b)(1-7) to set the amount and distribution of all funds listed in ¶ 906.1 in its budget recommendation. Under existing legislation, the General Conference may not set a dollar or percentage cap on the quadrennial budget prepared by the General Council on Finance and Administration nor could it require zero based budgeting in the preparation of that document. Therefore, the General Conference may not set a ceiling unless it changes the Discipline through established legislative processes. We express no opinion as to the constitutionality of any such change. The General Council on Finance and Administration submits a budget to the General Conference and this budget must be part of the report the Legislative Committee on Financial Administration makes to the General Conference (See Rules VIII(c)(5)). We know of nothing in the Discipline which would prevent the legislative committee from preparing its budget report for submission to the General Conference based on an agreed upon overall budget cap and then allocating the budgets of the specific funds in accordance with that cap. Nor is there any reason why the legislative committee could not call upon staff of the General Council on Finance and Administration to assist it in this endeavor. All of this, however, must be done after the submission of the budget recommendation by the General Council on Finance and Administration to the Daily Christian Advocate and to the legislative committee.
The General Conference cannot legally impose a limit on the General Council on Finance and Administration quadrennial budget recommendations to the General Conference. Any change must be done by established legislative processes. Concurring Opinion The undersigned concur. However, it might be helpful to explain the thought process that required the decision reached. Several facts about legislative process should be noted. The General Conference has legislative power over all matters distinctively connectional. It can do what it wishes as long as the Constitution is not contradicted. However, in so doing it must follow its own rules and legislative requirements. See Decision 608, for example. Rules may be suspended. Laws, statutes-the "language" of the Discipline may not. If the General Conference wishes to place a budgeting ceiling or take any other action not spelled out in the Discipline it must amend the Discipline first. It did not in this instance. The General Conference is a plenary body. It must follow the language it has established for itself. If it doesn't like it, it must change it in lawful, orderly fashion. The United Methodist Church is the most democratic religious institution in the world. Democracy, by nature, is slow and cumbersome. There is a reason for this. Everyone must have a chance to be heard, all aspects considered, all questions answered before action is taken. All persons' rights must be protected. Tom Matheny Elizabeth B. Gundlach John G. Corry Albert W. Sweazy Sally