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AGLO 1970 No. 097 - July 09, 1970
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Slade Gorton | 1969-1980 | Attorney General of Washington
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                                                                     July 9, 1970
Honorable Edward C. Beeksma
Prosecuting Attorney
Island County Court House
Coupeville, Washington 98239
                                                                                                               Cite as:  AGLO 1970 No. 97
Dear Sir:
            This is written in response to your recent letter requesting our opinion on a question pertaining to the salaries of prosecuting attorneys.  We understand your inquiry to be whether the provisions of chapter 43, Laws of 1970, will provide for automatic salary increases for prosecuting attorneys without any necessity for any legislative amendment to RCW 36.17.020, under which the present salaries of all county officers are fixed.
            We answer this question in the negative.
            The pertinent provisions of chapter 43, Laws of 1970, are §§ 2 and 4 thereof.  Section 2 amends RCW 43.03.028, which previously pertained to a body known as the governor's advisory committee on salaries, so as to create a committee now known as the state committee of salaries to consist of the following seven members:
            ". . .  The president of the University of Puget Sound or his nominee; the president of Washington State University or his nominee; the chairman of the State Personnel Board; the president of the Association of Washington Business; the president of the Pacific Northwest Personnel Managers' Association; the president of the Washington State Bar Association, and the president of the Washington State Labor Council or his nominee.  . . ."
            After thus creating the committee and designating its composition, the amended version of RCW 43.03.028, supra, goes on, in two subsections, to spell out the functions of the committee.  Subsection (1) is strictly limited to the functions of the committee in relation to the salaries of those state officials who are appointed as department or agency heads by the governor, and thus has nothing to do with your question.  Subsection (2), on the other hand, does bear upon your question, and reads as follows:
             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] "The committee shall also make a study of the duties and salaries of all state elective officials, including members of the supreme, appellate, superior, and district courts and of the members of the legislature, and also a study of the duties and salaries of county elective officials, and report to the governor and the legislative council not later than sixty days prior to the convening of each regular session of the legislature and recommend the salaries to be established for each position."  (Emphasis supplied.)
            With the foregoing in mind, the next section of chapter 43, Laws of 1970, to be noted is section 4, which adds a new section to chapter 43.03 RCW.  This new section reads as follows:
            "(1) The governor shall include, in the budget next transmitted by him to the legislature after the date of the submission of the report and recommendations of the committee under RCW 43.03.028, his recommendations with respect to the exact annual salaries which he deems advisable for all state elective officials within the purview of RCW 43;03.028.  As used in this subsection, the term "budget" means the budget referred to in RCW 43.88.020 (1).
            "(2) The recommendation of the governor transmitted to the legislature in the budget as to such positions shall be carried forth and included in the appropriation act of the state.
            "The amount of the salaries for which positions as enacted by the legislature, in the appropriation bill, shall be the salary that each respective official shall receive.
            "In the event the governor makes no recommendation, the salary that each such respective official shall receive shall remain the same."  (Emphasis supplied.)
            The first point to be noted with respect to this legislation (in terms of the question which you have posed) is that it does not purport to provide for automatic salary changes for any of the elective officials ‑ state or county ‑ who are referred to therein; and, of course, it could not  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] constitutionally do so ‑ for the function of fixing the salaries of all of these elective officials, state or county, is vested exclusively in the legislature.  See, Washington Constitution, Article XXVIII, § 1 (Amendment 20) with respect to state officers, and Washington Constitution, Article XI, § 8, with respect to county officers.
            Of course, the enactment of an appropriation constitutes legislative action, so the procedure provided for in § 4 of the act, supra, under which the legislature, by its enactment of the appropriation, is to fix the salaries of "all state elective officials" is undoubtedly constitutional.  But it is by no means automatic.
            Secondly, however, it is our further opinion, in any event, that a prosecuting attorney is not a "state elective official" within the meaning of this statute; instead, he is a county elective official ‑ a term which is clearly differentiated from the term "state elective officials" in RCW 43.03.028 (2), supra.  Within the framework of the appropriations procedure spelled out in § 4, for the fixing of salaries of "all state elective officials," it appears clear that the only officials whose salaries are thus to be fixed are those whose salaries are paid in full from appropriated state funds.  Yet, notably, no amendment has been made by the legislature to the provisions of RCW 36.17.020 under which only one‑half of the salary of each prosecuting attorney is to be paid by the state.  See, AGO 1969 No. 20, copy enclosed.
            Accordingly, it is our opinion that the salaries of all prosecuting attorneys will remain governed by the provisions of RCW 36.17.020, and will not be affected, automatically or otherwise, by the salary provisions for state elective officials which are contained in the 1971-73 state appropriations act or any future state appropriations acts in which salary provisions for state elective officials are contained in accordance with the provisions of chapter 43, Laws of 1970.
            We trust that the foregoing will be of assistance to you.
Very truly yours,
Philip H. Austin
Assistant Attorney General
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