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AGO 1957 No. 23 - February 26, 1957
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John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington

CONSTITUTIONAL LAW ‑- DEBT LIMITATION

A Bond issue to finance the construction of certain buildings at the University of Washington does not contravene constitutional limitations on the amount of state debt that may be incurred, if passable solely from tuition fees.

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                                                                February 26, 1957

Honorable Ed Munro
State Representative, 31st District
Legislative Building
Olympia, Washington                                                                                                                Cite as:  AGO 57-58 No. 23


Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged you have asked us for our opinion as to the constitutionality of House Bill No. 570, entitled:

            "AN ACT Relating to the construction, completion and remodeling of buildings and facilities at the University of Washington; authorizing the board to construct and finance the same by the issuance of bonds payable from a special fund into which shall be paid certain general tuition fees; amending section 3, chapter 66, Laws of 1915, as last amended by section 2, chapter 243, Laws of 1947, and RCW 28.77.040; and making an appropriation."

            It is our opinion that this bill, if enacted into law, would probably be declared constitutional by the state supreme court.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            You must realize that a question as broad as that you have asked cannot be given a definitive answer in a short period of time.  We refer you to chapter 268, Laws of 1955, an act known as the "Toll Road act."  This legislation before passage was carefully scrutinized from every conceivable constitutional aspect, and yet in the subsequent court test an unforeseen constitutional flaw was made the basis of a decision by the supreme court declaring the act invalid.

            It cannot be said with certainty that a similar court test of H.B. 570 with a prolonged, exhaustive and antipathetic analysis will not disclose defects which we are not able to discern on the basis of our necessarily cursory study.  At present, however, we are of the view that this bill would meet the test of constitutionality.

            Chapter 12, Laws of 1955, Ex. Sess., the "Building Authority Act." a somewhat similar law, was ruled invalid, because the supreme court held that the legislature had obligated the state to pay for the buildings there involved with funds raised through general taxation.  This, it was felt, contravened Article VIII, § 1 of the constitution of the State of Washington, since the cost of the buildings would have been greater than $400,000, and this constitutional provision holds that a state may not contract a debt in excess of that amount.  State ex rel. Washington State Building Financing Authority v. Yelle, 47 Wn. (2d) 705.

            The present act does not directly or indirectly pledge funds raised by taxation to pay for the bond issue.  The funds pledged are student fees, and only the special fund made up of these fees is liable for payment.  Consequently the bonds are not general obligations of the state, and there is no creation of a state debt within the contemplation of the constitution.  SeeState ex rel Capitol Commission v. Clausen, 134 Wash. 196; and Ajax v. Gregory, 177 Wash. 465.

            We have submitted to the sponsors of this legislation many amendments including changes in the title, the anticipated adoption of which will obviate many ambiguities and make a detailed discussion of them needless.

            We trust the foregoing will prove helpful.

Very truly yours,

JOHN J. O'CONNELL
Attorney General

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