TIR Toolkit

WaterNow: State Gift Prohibitions Database

State Gift Laws Database

All states prohibit “gifts” of public funds to private individuals or groups. However, most states have also developed extensive exceptions allowing public funds to be directed to private parties when these funds are deployed for primarily public benefits. These constitutional provisions were adopted in the wake of the public debt crisis of the 1830s – when eight states defaulted on debt incurred to build public infrastructure through private partnerships – nearly every state adopted a constitutional amendment to prohibit the use of public bonds and credit for private projects that do not benefit public interests.  Together the amendments have formed the “public purpose” doctrine, which provides that public dollars must be allocated for public purposes and government interests and cannot only be used to aid private persons.

Because of these exceptions state gift prohibitions should not be viewed as barriers to implementing localized infrastructure on private property with public capital. Most states allow expenditures that incidentally benefit private interests, as long as they primarily serve and effectuate a public purpose. Some states choose to apply narrow interpretations of terms like “public purpose” and “private benefit” to limit the scope of the prohibition. Other states, however, have not extended an exemption as broadly as others.

If you’re curious about your state’s relevant constitutional sections, potential exceptions to prohibitions against the use of public funds for private purposes, and any potentially relevant state-specific case law, attorney general opinions or other local agency opinions on the subject you can search WaterNow’s 50-state database below. Simply choose the state from the dropdown menu and the relevant information will be provided. You can also select multiple states by clicking the “Search Another State” button. And select the “Email this to Me” option to receive a record of your search.

State Gift Prohibition Lookup

State Gift Prohibition Lookup


DISCLAIMER: These materials are not offered as or intended to be legal advice. Readers should seek the advice of an attorney when confronted with legal issues. Attorneys should perform an independent evaluation of the issues raised in these materials. By providing these materials WaterNow does not endorse, either expressly or by implication, their accuracy or legality and expressly disclaims any and all liabilities and warranties related to use of these materials.


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