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AGO 1957 No. 38 - March 26, 1957
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John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington

TAXATION ‑- EXCISE TAX ON AIRCRAFT

New owner registering used aircraft in this state after March 31, is entitled to excise tax reduction even though plane had at some prior time been registered by former owner.

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                                                                  March 26, 1957

Honorable Robert L. Nuber
Director
Washington State Aeronautics Commission
Box 3, Boeing Field
Seattle 8, Washington                                                                                                                Cite as:  AGO 57-58 No. 38


overruling 55-57 No. 300

Dear Sir:

            We have your letter of January 31, 1957, calling our attention to our opinion to you [[to State Aeronautics Commission]]of July 13, 1956, AGO 55-57 No. 300, and asking that we review the conclusion reached in that opinion.  In that opinion we answered, in the affirmative, the following question:

            "A resident of this State buys a used airplane in another state after March 31, and returns it to this state.  Is this new owner eligible for the Quarterly Excise Tax discount if at some previous time the said airplane had been owned and registered in this state?"

            Upon review, it is our conclusion that opinion incorrectly analyzed the language of the applicable statutes and that the answer should properly have been in the negative.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            RCW 82.48.020 imposes an annual excise tax upon the privilege of using any aircraft in this state.  RCW 82.48.030 (§ 3, chapter 49, Laws of 1949), establishes the rate of tax as follows:

            "The amount of the tax imposed by this chapter for each year shall be one percent of the fair market value of the aircraft, as determined in the manner provided in this chapter:  Provided, That upon aircraft registered for the first time under this chapter after March 31st and before July 1st of any year the excise tax for such year shall be reduced by one‑fourth thereof; that upon aircraft so registered for the first time after June 30th and before October 1st of any year the excise tax shall be reduced by one‑half thereof; and that upon aircraft so registered for the first time after September 30th of any year the excise tax shall be reduced by three‑fourths thereof:  Provided further, That the minimum amount payable shall be three dollars."

            In the prior opinion it was concluded that the words "registered for the first time" within the above statute are modified by the phrase "of any year," and consequently that an airplane registered after March 31st, June 30th or September 30th of any year was entitled to the appropriate quarterly reduction in the tax regardless of the fact that the airplane may have been within the state the entire year and previously registered under the act.

            If such were the intent of the legislature, it was meaningless to have included the words "for the first time."  Giving meaning to that phrase discloses an intent to provide reductions to original registration only.  The other construction affords the opportunity for an owner to annually control the amount of tax paid by simply delaying registration.

            It must be remembered that the language used in the above quoted statute is nearly identical with that employed in the motor vehicle excise tax, RCW 82.44.060.  The construction of this tax is, consequently, equally applicable to the vehicle tax.  Both the motor vehicle and the aircraft excise taxes are imposed in lieu of annual ad valorem taxes, which are due in full whether the property is used or not.  Certainly these excise taxes which are imposed as a more convenient method of taxation should not, if possible, be construed in a manner which makes them incomparable  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] to the tax of which they stand in lieu.  See RCW 82.44.130 and RCW 82.48.110 and State ex rel. Hansen v. Salter, 190 Wash. 703.

            Accordingly, we are convinced that the phrases "of any year" relate simply to the quarterly period stated in the statute and not to the phrase "registered for the first time."  Construed in this manner, the act provides no opportunity to escape tax by the device of delayed registration each year.

            Thus only aircraft registered "for the first time under this chapter" after the respective dates indicated qualify for quarterly deduction.  The aircraft about which you originally inquired, cannot therefore qualify since it was previously registered under the act.

Very truly yours,

JOHN J. O'CONNELL
Attorney General


KEITH GRIM
Assistant Attorney General

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