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AGO 1980 No. 3 - January 17, 1980
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Slade Gorton | 1969-1980 | Attorney General of Washington

COURTS ‑- SUPERIOR ‑- LEGISLATURE ‑- INITIATIVE NO. 62 ‑- FUNDING NEW SUPERIOR COURT JUDGESHIPS 

In the event that the state legislature, during its current (1980) session, increases the number of superior court judgeships within a given county, the state will be required by § 6(1) of Initiative No. 62 to reimburse that county for its added costs arising by reason of those new judgeships. 

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                                                                 January 17, 1980 

Honorable Phil Talmadge
State Senator, 34th District
409 Public Lands Building
Olympia, Washington 98504

Cite as:  AGO 1980 No. 3 

Dear Sir: 

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

            In the event that the state legislature, during its current (1980) session, increases the number of superior court judgeships in King County, will the state be required by § 6(1) of Initiative No. 62 to reimburse the county for its added costs arising by reason of those new judgeships?
 

            We answer the foregoing question in the affirmative.

                                                                     ANALYSIS 

            Article IV, § 13 of the Washington Constitution provides, in material part, that: 

            ". . . One‑half of the salary of each of the superior court judges shall be paid by the state, and the other one‑half by the county or counties for which he is elected. . . ." 

            In addition to thus being responsible for payment of one‑half of the salary of each superior court judge,1/ the  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] various counties for which those judges are elected2/ are required by law3/ to provide suitable courtroom facilities and, by other similar statutes, to pay all other expenses of the superior courts including the salaries of other court personnel.  Thus, but for the recent adoption of Initiative No. 62 at the November, 1979, general election, the only direct cost to the state itself in the event of creation of any further new judgeships for King County (or for any other county) would be that related to the other "one‑half of the salary" increment provided for in Article IV, § 13,supra.  Section 6(1) of Initiative No. 62, however, reads as follows: 

            "The legislature shall not impose responsibility for new programsor increased levels of service under existing programs on any taxing district unless the districts are reimbursed for the costs thereof by the state."  (Emphasis supplied) 

            This initiative measure, of course, is merely a state statute and not a constitutional amendment for, as we have previously said, it is not possible to amend the constitution through the initiative process in this state.  See,e.g., our letter opinion of February 20, 1970, to the Secretary of State on that question.  Therefore, the legislature may, even now, amend the foregoing provision or any other portion of the initiative by a two-thirds majority vote in both houses in accordance with Article II, § 41 (Amendment 26) of the constitution.  And, once the measure has been in effect for two full years, the legislature can either amend it or repeal it by a simple majority vote in the same manner as with any other statute.  But until and unless that is done, it is our opinion that your question, as above paraphrased, must be answered in the affirmative. 

            To begin with, it must be concluded that counties are included among the taxing districts referred to in § 6(1), supra.  Section 2(4) of Initiative No. 62 expressly defines  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] the term "taxing district" to mean ". . . those districts included within the term 'taxing district' under RCW 84.04.120 . . ." and RCW 84.04.120, in turn, defines the term "taxing districts" in such a manner as to include counties.4/ 

             Although, as above indicated, we believe that the reference to this provision in § 2(4) of Initiative No. 62,supra, means that counties are "taxing districts" for the purposes of that law, we do not mean, thereby, to suggest that the state itself, even though also included under RCW 84.04.120, supra, is likewise to be deemed a "taxing district" for purposes of the initiative.  The clear import of both subsection (1),supra, and the other subsections of § 6 of the initiative is to regulate the fiscal relationship between the state and local governmental units such as counties, cities and other taxing districts.  As we stated in the official explanatory statement in the 1979 Official Voters' Pamphlet at page 11, in describing § 6(1) of Initiative No. 62 to the voters: 

            ". . . The initiative, . . . would prohibit the legislature from requiringlocal governments to offer new or expanded services unless the costs are paid by the state . . ."  (Emphasis supplied) 

            Thus, the only remaining issue is whether the legislature, by increasing the number of superior court judges to be allocated to King County (or, again, any other county) would, thereby, be ". . . impose[ing] responsibility for . . . increased levels of service under existing programs . . ."  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] on those counties.  Clearly, in our opinion, it would be.  Specifically, it would be imposing responsibility on the county or counties for an increased level of service (as compared to the status quo today) through its legally mandated superior court "program" with a resulting increase in both payroll and other court costs, not the least of which might well be a necessity for additional courtrooms as well as added court personnel. 

            The only suggestion to the contrary appearing in your letter is that, somehow, the word "program" as used in § 6(1) of Initiative No. 62, supra, should not be deemed to include those activities involving the state judiciary.  You have, however, offered no rationale for such conclusion and we, likewise, are unable to conceive of any.  The reason that functions such as those of the governor or the legislature (to which you have referred by way of analogy) do not also come under § 6(1) is not that those functions do not constitute "programs."  Rather, as explained above, it is simply that those programs are entirely state, rather than county or other local governmental, programs and services insofar as the matter of funding is concerned. 

            In summary, therefore, it is our considered opinion that if the legislature, during its current (1980) session, increases the number of superior court judgeships within a given county, the state will be required by § 6(1) of Initiative No. 62 to reimburse that county for its added costs arising by reason of those new judgeships. 

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

Very truly yours,
SLADE GORTON
Attorney General 

PHILIP H. AUSTIN
Deputy Attorney General 

                                                         ***   FOOTNOTES   *** 

1/See also, RCW 2.08.100. 

2/See, RCW 2.08.061 through 2.08.065. 

3/RCW 2.28.139 through 2.28.140. 

4/RCW 84.04.120 reads, in full, as follows: 

            "'Taxing district' shall be held and construed to mean and include the state and any county, city, town, township, port district, school district, road district, metropolitan park district, water district or other municipal corporation, now or hereafter existing, having the power or authorized by law to impose burdens upon property within the district in proportion to the value thereof, for the purpose of obtaining revenue for public purposes, as distinguished from municipal corporations authorized to impose burdens, or for which burdens may be imposed, for such purposes, upon property in proportion to the benefits accruing thereto."

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