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AGO 1957 No. 105 - July 31, 1957
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John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington


TAXATION ‑- REFORESTATION LAND ‑- YIELD TAX

There is no yield tax due when timber on county-owned land classified as reforestation land, is owned separately by a private party.

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                                                                    July 31, 1957

Honorable Robert L. Charette
Prosecuting Attorney
Grays Harbor County
Aberdeen, Washington

                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 57-58 No. 105

Dear Sir:

            We have your request for an opinion of this office on a question which we paraphrase as follows:

            If a county sells the timber only on tax title land classified as reforestation land, who is responsible for payment of the yield tax when the timber crop is harvested?

            We conclude that under the above facts no yield tax is due.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            The act relating to reforestation of land, chapter 40, Laws of 1931, as amended by chapter 206, Laws of 1939, §§ 33, 34, and chapter 172, Laws of 1951 (Chapter 84.28 RCW) makes the owner of classified land primarily responsible for the payment of the yield tax.  Section 1, chapter 40, Laws of 1931, reads in part:

            "* * * it is necessary that a system of taxation and assessment be devised for such lands, which will encourage the growth of new and immature forests on lands chiefly valuable for that purpose, and which will enable the owners  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] thereof to bear the burden of taxation on such lands over the period of years necessary to produce forests of commercial value. . . ."

            The land owner under other provisions of the law must secure a harvesting permit, post a bond, and report the amount of timber cut.  Section 33, chapter 206, Laws of 1939 (RCW 84.28.110 through 84.28.120).

            The tax is imposed and collected under section 12 of the 1931 act (RCW 84.28.140) which provides:

            "Upon receipt of a report of cutting or upon determination of the amount cut as provided in this act * * * the county assessor shall assess and tax against the owner of such lands the amount of yield tax due on account of such cutting; and shall forthwith transmit to the county treasurer a record of such tax; and the county treasurer shall thereupon enter the amount of such yield tax on his recordsagainst such lands and their owner; and such yield tax shall thereupon become a lien against such lands and also against the forest material cut thereon * * * and if not paid before the same becomes delinquent, may be collected by seizure and sale of such forest material, * * * Any person, firm, or corporation buying any forest material on which the yield tax herein provided has not been paid shall be liable for the payment of said tax * * *" (Emphasis supplied.)

            Timber on tax title property may be sold by the county separately from the land.  RCW 84.64.290.  Such land previously classified as reforestation land does not lose that classification when sold by the county.  Anderson v. Grays Harbor County, 149 Wash. Dec. 92 [[49 Wn. 2d 89]].

            The yield tax is computed upon a percentage of the market value of the timber cut, based upon the full current stumpage rates as fixed by the state forest board.  Section 33, chapter 206, Laws of 1939 (RCW 84.28.110-120).

            The tax is then assessed against the land and the land owner and becomes a lien against such land or any forest materials cut thereon.  Further, under section 12, any person, firm or corporation buying any forest material upon which the yield tax has not been paid is liable therefor.  However, in this case there can be no yield tax imposed upon the land because it is owned by the county whose property is exempt from taxation.  Amendment 14 (Article VII, § 1) of the Washington State Constitution, and RCW 84.64.220.  Since the landowner, the county, is immune, no tax applies and consequently no valid lien arises which can attach to the forest material owned by a private party.  It is said in 3 Cooley, Taxation (4th ed) Sec. 1230:

            "A valid tax assessment is essential to a valid tax lien."

            It is apparent that when chapter 40, Laws of 1931, was passed the legislature overlooked the possibility of the land being in tax exempt ownership while the timber was owned separately by a private party.

            A different result will obtain in a situation where the land and timber are in separate private ownerships.  In such a case the landowner is primarily liable but under section 12, the owner of the timber upon which the lien has attached may also be made to pay if the tax is not otherwise collected.

Very truly yours,

JOHN J. O'CONNELL
Attorney General

KEITH GRIM
Assistant Attorney General

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