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AGO 1949 No. 144 - October 13, 1949
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Smith Troy | 1941-1952 | Attorney General of Washington

*NEEDS TITLE*

1. A trailer which is "not designed primarily for use upon public streets and highways" is not a "motor vehicle" within the meaning of the statute imposing the motor vehicle excise, but is subject to payment of a personal property tax thereon.

2. Payment of the motor vehicle excise is not a condition precedent to the issuance of a motor vehicle license upon a vehicle which is not a "motor vehicle" within the definition of that term in the Motor Vehicle Excise Tax Act.

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                                                                October 13, 1949

State Tax Commission
Insurance Building
Olympia, Washington                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 49-51 No. 144

Attention:  !ttHonorable E. W. Anderson,
            Commissioner

Gentlemen:

            We have your letter of September 1, 1949, in which you ask the following question:

            Must the owner of a low flat-bed trailer designed primarily for conveying produce in orchards and not designed for or used nor normally used on the highways, and who has been assessed the personal property tax on such trailer, pay the motor vehicle excise tax in order to get a motor vehicle license?

            The conclusions reached may be summarized as follows:

            1. A trailer which is "not designed primarily for use upon public streets and highways" is not a "motor vehicle" within the meaning of the statute imposing the motor vehicle excise, but is subject to payment of a personal property tax thereon.

            2. Payment of the motor vehicle excise is not a condition precedent to the issuance of a motor vehicle license upon a vehicle which is not a "motor vehicle" within the definition of that term in the Motor Vehicle Excise Tax Act.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            You have directed our attention to our opinion to the Tax Commission dated March 20, 1944, and state that it, being upon a different set of facts, does not appear to answer your present inquiry.  We agree with you that the opinion referred to was based upon a different set of facts.  The  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] situation there involved was one where the owner of the truck had paid the personal property tax, and had subsequently obtained his motor vehicle license at that time paying the motor vehicle excise tax.  The question was whether he was entitled to a refund of one of the taxes.  We concluded that the ad valorem tax and the excise tax were mutually exclusive, and that in this case the excise tax should be refunded because the truck was used primarily upon private property.  We agree with this conclusion.

            Your question now is whether the motor vehicle excise tax must be paid in the first place upon such a vehicle as described in your letter.  That is, must the excise be paid at the time of obtaining the license, thereby requiring a subsequent application for a refund of the excise tax paid?

            The law imposing the motor vehicle excise is chapter 144, Laws of 1943, and in section 1 thereof, as amended by section 1, chapter 152, Laws of 1945 (6312-115 Rem. Supp. 1945) the term "motor vehicle" is defined to mean:

            "* * * all motor vehicles, trailers and semitrailers used, or of the type designed primarily to be used, upon the public streets and highways * * *; but the term shall not include * * * automotive equipment not designed primarily for use upon public streets or highways, * * *"

            The act proceeds to impose a motor vehicle excise on every "motor vehicle," and requires that when the county auditor issues a license for a "motor vehicle" he is required to obtain at the same time the excise tax due.

            We are of the opinion that section 1, as above quoted, expressly excludes from the definition of the term "motor vehicle" a trailer of the type described by you.  As we understand it, the trailer is designed primarily for use upon a farm, orchard, or ranch, for the transportation of produce thereon.  Being "not designed primarily for use upon the public highways" it is expressly excluded from the definition of "motor vehicle" above quoted.  It is true that when used upon the public highways it is required to obtain a license but, not being a "motor vehicle," it is not subject to the payment of the motor vehicle excise.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            In so far as our opinion of March 20, 1944, to the Tax Commission might be construed to be contrary to the above, it is hereby modified.

Very truly yours,

SMITH TROY
Attorney General

C. JOHN NEWLANDS
Assistant Attorney General

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