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AGLO 1974 No. 6 - January 15, 1974
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Slade Gorton | 1969-1980 | Attorney General of Washington

MOTOR VEHICLES ‑- TAXATION ‑- LEGISLATURE ‑- CONSTITUTIONALITY OF USING CERTAIN GASOLINE TAX REVENUES FOR OTHER THAN HIGHWAY PURPOSES

The legislature may constitutionally authorize counties and cities to impose and collect a license fee on motor vehicles and/or a tax on motor vehicle fuel and to use the revenue collected therefrom for purposes other than "highway purposes" as that term is used and defined in Article II, § 40 (Amendment 18) of the Washington Constitution.

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                                                                 January 15, 1974

Honorable Donn Charnley
State Representative, 44th District
19344 11th Avenue N.W.
Seattle, Washington 98177                                                                                                                 Cite as:  AGLO 1974 No. 6

Dear Sir:

            By recent letter you have asked for our opinion on a question which we paraphrase as follows:

            May the legislature constitutionally authorize counties and cities to impose and collect a license fee on motor vehicles and/or a tax on motor vehicle fuel and to use the revenue collected therefrom for purposes other than "highway purposes" as that term is used and defined in Article II, § 40 (Amendment 18) of the Washington Constitution?

            We answer this question in the affirmative.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            As you have noted in your letter, Article II, § 40 (Amendment 18) of the state Constitution requires that:

            "All fees collected by the State of Washington as license fees for motor vehicles and all excise taxes collected by the State of Washington on the sale, distribution or use of motor vehicle fuel and all other state revenue intended to be used for highway purposes, shall be paid into the state treasury and placed in a special fund to be used exclusively for highway purposes. . . ."

            Thereafter, this constitutional provision goes on to state that such "highway purposes" shall be construed to include the following:

            ". . .

            "(a) The necessary operating, engineering and legal expenses connected with the  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] administration of public highways, county roads and city streets;

            "(b) The construction, reconstruction, maintenance, repair, and betterment of public highways, county roads, bridges and city streets; including the cost and expense of (1) acquisition of rights-of-way, (2) installing, maintaining and operating traffic signs and signal lights, (3) policing by the state of public highways, (4) operation of movable span bridges, (5) operation of ferries which are a part of any public highway, county road, or city street;

            "(c) The payment or refunding of any obligation of the State of Washington, or any political subdivision thereof, for which any of the revenues described in section 1 may have been legally pledged prior to the effective date of this act;

            "(d) Refunds authorized by law for taxes paid on motor vehicle fuels;

            "(e) The cost of collection of any revenues described in this section: . . ."

            And then, finally, it concludes with the following proviso:

            ". . .  Provided, That this section shall not be construed to include revenue from general or special taxes or excises not levied primarily for highway purposes, or apply to vehicle operator's license fees or any excise tax imposed on motor vehicles or the use thereof in lieu of a property tax theron, or fees for certificates of ownership of motor vehicles."

            Dependent upon the nature of the tax or fee involved it will thus be seen that even a tax levied and collected by the state itself from highway users could be applied to other than highway purposes for, as stated in our opinion of August 4, 1972, to the Legislative Transportation Committee [[an Informal Opinion AIR-72559)]], copy enclosed,

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            ". . .  The proviso quoted above makes it clear that not all tax revenues derived from 'highway users' arerequired to become dedicated funds.  (Emphasis supplied.)"

            We need not, however, rest our answer to your present question on this particularrationale for it is our opinion, in any event, that Article II, § 40 (Amendment 18) only relates to taxes collected by the state of Washington and does not reach those imposed and collected by local units of government.  Specifically, by its own express terms it relates to "All fees collected by the State of Washington"; "all excise taxes collected by the State of Washington"; "all other state revenue intended to be used for highway purposes."  Then, it goes on to require these revenues to be "paid into the state treasury" ‑ not the treasury of a county, city or town as is the case with respect to locally levied and collected taxes.

            Accordingly, we do not believe that this constitutional provision would render invalid a state statute enabling counties and cities to impose and collect a license fee on motor vehicles and/or a tax on motor vehicle fuel and to use the revenue collected therefrom for purposes other than "highway purposes," as used and defined therein, and, for this reason, we answer your question (as above paraphrased) in the affirmative.

            We trust that the foregoing will be of some assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

SLADE GORTON
Attorney General

PHILIP H. AUSTIN
Deputy Attorney General

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