Navigation Top
AGO Logo Graphic
AGO Header Image
File a Complaint
Contact the AGO
AGO 1953 No. 135 - September 21, 1953
AGO Opinion Header Image
Don Eastvold | 1953-1956 | Attorney General of Washington


There is no statutory authority for the expenditure of county funds for the use of the county assessors' legislative committee for the purpose of sponsoring proposed tax legislation.

                                                              - - - - - - - - - - - - -

                                                              September 21, 1953

Honorable Hugh H. Evans
Prosecuting Attorney
Spokane County
Spokane 1, Washington                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 53-55 No. 135


Attention:  !ttRobert J. McNichols,
            Civil Deputy
Dear Sir:

            We have your letter of September 8, 1953, requesting a formal opinion of this office upon the following set of facts:

            "At the Annual Assessors' Association Convention the several county assessors pay a registration fee which is taxed against the expense account of each assessor and paid by his respective county.  Assume that such registration fees are to be increased and the additional funds are to be set aside for the use of the Assessors' Legislative Committee during the 1955 legislative session.

            "Would the expenditure of such funds for the Legislative Committee be a legal expenditure of public funds?"

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            It is our opinion that such an expenditure would be illegal.


            Counties are creatures of statute and derive such powers as they possess from general law.  Article XI, section 4, Amendment 21, Washington State Constitution.  Carpenter v. Okanogan County, 163 Wash. 18.

            "A county in a political and legal aspect is a civil division of the territory of a state, and a governmental agency of the state, in a sense a municipal corporation, at least a quasi-corporation, to aid in the administration of governmental affairs, and to exercise delegated sovereign powers of the state, * * *" 1 McQuillin, Municipal Corporations, 3rd Edition, 311.

            See alsoKing County v. Port of Seattle, 37 Wn. (2d) 338.

            Our supreme court has held on several occasions that a municipal corporation may not legally expend public funds for the purpose of influencing legislation, unless such powers are expressly granted or can reasonably be implied from the powers granted by the legislature.  State ex rel. Port of Seattle v. Superior Court, 93 Wash. 267; State ex rel. Rice v. Bell, 124 Wash. 647;Port of Seattle ex rel. Dunbar v. Lamping, 135 Wash. 569.  While counties are not generally considered to be municipal corporations, the principle of delegation of powers applies with equal force to them.

            Article XI, section 5, Amendment 12, Washington Constitution authorizes the legislature to provide for the election of certain named officials "and other county * * * officers as public convenience may require and it shall prescribe their duties and fix their terms of office * * *."  An examination of the various statutes fixing the powers and duties of county assessors discloses no intent on the part of the legislature to vest county assessors with the power or duty to recommend tax legislation.  RCW 84.08.190 requires the county assessors of the state to meet annually with the state tax commission "for the purpose of instruction on the subject of taxation."  Chapter 84.08 RCW prescribes that county assessors shall be under the general supervision of the state tax commission.  RCW 84.08.090 requires the state tax commission to make biennial reports to the Governor containing recommendations for revision of revenue laws.  The same section requires that such reports shall be implemented by suitable legislative bills.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            We are aware that a recent opinion of this office, AGO 51-53 No. 507 [[to T. A. Durham, Prosecuting Attorney, Whatcom County on March 24, 1953]], ruled that public funds may be made available to the executive secretary of the Washington State Association of County Commissioners as salary during the legislative session while he acts as a lobbyist for proposed legislation sponsored by such association.  The cited opinion pointed out that the county commissioners are required by law to submit biennial reports to the Governor and the legislature of their joint recommendation.  RCW 36.32.340-36.32.360.  These statutes expressly authorize the formation of a state association of county commissioners and the reimbursement of such coordinating agency from county funds.

            There is no comparable statutory provision for a state association of county assessors.  The legislature has not seen fit to solicit recommendations from the various county assessors with respect to tax legislation.  This advisory function has been reposed in the state tax commission with whom the county assessors meet annually for instructions.  Hence, we conclude that while the proposition concerning which you inquired appears to be meritorious, it is not legal under existing laws.

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General

Content Bottom Graphic
AGO Logo