CHANGE IN STATUTORY FEE BASIS FOR OVERWEIGHT TRUCK PERMITS
Where statute provides special permits for overweight vehicles with the prescribed fee at a certain yearly sum per vehicle Director of Highways may not substitute in lieu thereof a fee calculated on a mileage basis, but only those fleet units which must be registered in Washington under chapter 130, Laws of 1949 are liable for such permit fees.
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October 23, 1951
Honorable W. A. Bugge, Director
Department of Highways
Olympia, Washington Cite as: AGO 51-53 No. 155
We have your request for an opinion on the following question:
May special overweight permits be issued to fleet operators of motor freight vehicles engaged in interstate operations over selected highway sections in this state on a vehicle mile fee basis in lieu of the fee basis prescribed by section 39, chapter 269, Laws of 1951?
Our conclusion may be stated as follows:
Special overweight permits issued under authority of section 39, chapter 269, Laws of 1951 must be issued on the fee basis prescribed therein, but said fee shall apply only to those fleet units which must be registered in Washington by virtue of section 1, chapter 130, Laws of 1949.
You have advised us that it would be desirable, where special overweight permits are issued to fleet operators of trucks engaged in interstate operations, to impose the fee therefor on a vehicle mileage basis, to be computed [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] upon the proportion of total miles traveled to the miles traveled in the state of Washington. You have inquired whether the Director of Highways has authority to issue special permits under section 39, chapter 269, Laws of 1951, upon such a fee basis in lieu of the fee prescribed by that section.
Section 39, chapter 269, Laws of 1951 provides as follows:
"An additional two thousand pounds gross load over and above the maximum gross load may be allowed as to certain vehicles when fully licensed as required by sections 26 through 28 for three‑axle trucks, two-axle trailers and three‑axle trailers, also either an additional two thousand pounds or an additional four thousand pounds gross load for a three‑axle truck-tractor over and above the maximum gross load, when fully licensed as permitted in sections 26 through 28 may be eligible for increased weights by special permit for operations on designated highways or section of highways as specified in a special permit to be issued by the director of highways based upon his determination that such designated highways or section of highways are capable of withstanding such allowable increased gross load. The fee for such additional gross weight for a twelve‑month period shall be at a rate of fifty dollars for each two thousand pounds issued.
"The fees levied in sections 38 and 39 shall not apply to any vehicles owned and operated by the state of Washington; any county within the state or any municipality within the state; or by the federal government."
Where the legislature undertakes to confer a specific grant of authority, that authority must be exercised according to the legislative language. In the granting of the authority with which we are here concerned, the Director of Highways is empowered to issue special permits to motor vehicle operators for the transportation of additional weights under certain circumstances and at a specified fee rate. The statutory direction is reasonably clear and unambiguous. With regard to those vehicles clearly within its terms, the director has no discretion to depart from the statutory direction. However, the legislature has [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] recognized that the application of state laws can create an unreasonable impediment to the flow of traffic in interstate operations. In order to relieve such operations from this burden, certain fleet vehicle units are not required to be registered in the State of Washington although they travel over Washington highways.
Section 1, chapter 130, Laws of 1949 provides as follows:
"Chapter 188, Laws of 1937, is amended by adding a new section thereto to be known as section 23a, to read as follows:
"Section 23a. With respect to fleets of two (2) or more commercial vehicles owned by residents of Washington or non-residents [[nonresidents]]which are engaged in interstate movement under the authority of the Interstate Commerce Commission, the Director of Licenses may enter into agreements with states, the District of Columbia, territories or countries which make like agreements to apportion the registration of such fleets between Washington and the other states, the District of Columbia, territories, or countries into which such fleets enter. The percentage of miles the fleets subject to this section operate in Washington as related to the total miles such fleets operate shall be used by the Director to determine what percentage of the total number of vehicles in such fleets must be registered in Washington. The Director of Licenses may require fleet owners subject to this section to submit under oath such information as he deems necessary for the proper carrying out of the provisions of this section. The Director's determination of the number of vehicles in fleets subject to this section to be registered in Washington shall be final."
The Department of Licenses exempts the vehicles which need not be registered from all license requirements up to their statutory capacity. The Department of Highways likewise has considered chapter 130 to exempt those vehicles from the payment of special permit fees required for the transportation of over-legal loads.
[[Orig. Op. Page 4]]
We are of the opinion that the position of the Department of Highways is reasonable. The legislature has seen fit to exempt a determinable percentage of vehicles of a motor fleet from registration in this state. Assuming, of course, that the participating states reciprocate, the exempt vehicles should not be required to pay special permit fees. It would not be consistent to declare that a vehicle which need not be registered in this state and is exempt from regular license and tonnage fees should be obliged to pay such permit fees, since these are merely supplemental to the regular fees.
Under your suggested fee basis, special permits would be issued to all vehicle units of any fleet engaged in interstate operations based on the percentage of miles traveled in Washington. Presumably, this means that if the mileage traveled in Washington for all units amounted, for example, to twenty per cent of the total fleet mileage for all units, each unit of the fleet would be charged twenty per cent of the fee prescribed by section 39, chapter 269, Laws of 1951. This is not in accord with the language of section 39, which prescribes the conditions upon which the fee shall be based. In order to reconcile our interpretation of section 39 with the provisions of chapter 130, we must conclude that section 39 applies only to those vehicles which must be registered under chapter 130, but that for each registered vehicle, the full fee shall be exacted. Revenues to the state and corresponding charges to the fleet operators would, of course, be the same as under your suggested fee basis.
Accordingly, we are of the opinion that overweight permits under section 39, chapter 269, Laws of 1951, must be issued on the fee basis prescribed therein, but such fees shall be applied only to those vehicles of the total number of a fleet of vehicles registered under chapter 130, Laws of 1949.
Very truly yours,