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AGO 1972 No. 11 - May 12, 1972
AGO Opinion Header Image
Slade Gorton | 1969-1980 | Attorney General of Washington

TAXATION ‑- EXCISE ‑- TRAILERS AND CAMPERS ‑- COMPUTATION OF SUCH TAXES

(1) Owners of travel trailers licensed in this state for 1971 who wait until after May 23, 1972, to pay their 1972 excise tax and to license their trailers for this year are not entitled to have this tax computed at the new rate provided for by chapter 144, Laws of 1972, Ex. Sess.

(2) There is no distinction to be made between the 1972 excise tax status of travel trailers and campers under chapter 144, Laws of 1972, Ex. Sess., even though campers were not required to be licensed until January 1, 1972.

(3) Owners of travel trailers or campers who paid their 1972 excise taxes when due or between the due date and May 23, 1972, are not entitled to a refund of some portion of the differential between the old and new rates.

(4) A person who owned and was in possession of a camper in this state on the date the 1972 excise tax thereon became due is not entitled to an abatement of this tax for that portion of the year which elapses before he first licensed his camper.

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

                                                                   May 12, 1972

Honorable Jack G. Nelson
Director, Department of Motor Vehicles
Highways-Licenses Building
Olympia, Washington 98504

                                                                                                                 Cite as:  AGO 1972 No. 11

Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged you have requested our opinion on several questions relating to the taxation of travel trailers and campers for the calendar year 1972 ‑ in the light of the 1972 legislature's reduction of the excise tax rate for such vehicles from two percent to one percent of fair market value by an act (chapter 144, Laws of 1972, Ex. Sess.) which does not become effective until  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] May 23, 1972.  We paraphrase your questions as follows:

            (1) Are owners of travel trailers licensed in this state for 1971, who wait until after May 23, 1972, to pay this tax and to license these vehicles for this year, entitled to have their 1972 excise tax computed at the new, lower rate?

            (2) Is any distinction to be made between travel trailers and campers in this regard in view of the fact that campers were not required to be licensed in this state until January 1, 1972 ‑ as provided for in § 7, chapter 231, Laws of 1971, 1st Ex. Sess.?

            (3) Are owners of travel trailers or campers who paid their 1972 excise taxes when due, or between the due date and May 23, 1972, entitled to a refund of some portion of the differential between the old and new rates?

            (4) Is a person who owned and was in possession of a camper in this state on the date the 1972 excise tax thereon was due entitled to an abatement of this tax for that portion of the current year which elapses before he first licenses the camper?

            We answer all four of these questions in the negative for the reasons set forth in our analysis.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            Under the provisions of RCW 82.50.020, the owners of both travel trailers and campers1/ are required to pay an annual excise tax

            ". . . for the privilege of using such . . . travel trailer, or camper in this state . . ."

            After thus imposing this tax, the statute goes on to provide for the collection thereof as follows:

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            ". . .  The tax shall be collected for each calendar year by the department of motor vehicles or the county auditor of the county in which the mobile home, travel trailer, or camper is located at the time payment is made and shall be due on and after January 1st or on the date the mobile home, travel trailer, or camper is first purchased or brought into this state, and paid on or before February 4th of each calendar year or thirty days after the mobile home, travel trailer, or camper is first purchased or brought into this state, whichever is later.  No additional tax shall be imposed under this chapter upon any mobile home, travel trailer, or camper upon the transfer of ownership thereof, if the tax imposed by this chapter with respect to such mobile home, travel trailer, or camper has already been paid for the calendar year or fractional part thereof in which such transfer occurs."

            In addition, in order to use either of these two types of vehicles upon the highways of this state, the owners thereof must also obtain a vehicle license ‑ a requirement which has been in effect with respect to travel trailers for some years but which has only applied to campers since January 1, 1972, when the provisions of § 7, chapter 231, Laws of 1971, 1st Ex. Sess., became effective.  It is important before proceeding further to note and understand the independent nature of these two separate requirements, and to distinguish between the uses to which each of them applies.

            While the vehicle licensing requirement involves only the privilege of using a travel trailer or camper upon the highways of this state, the excise tax applies to mere possession of such a vehicle ‑ as will be seen from a careful analysis of RCW 82.50.020, supra.  The tax imposed by this statute "for the privilege of using" a travel trailer or camper in this state is stated to be due on January 1 of each year or on the date upon which the travel trailer or camper is first purchased or brought into this state.  The tax is required to be paid on or before February 4 of each year2/ or within  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] thirty days following the purchase date or the date upon which the vehicle is first brought into the state, whichever is later.

            Thus, while this statute contains no specific definition of what constitutes "the privilege of using" for the purposes of this excise tax, the prescribed due dates for payment in substance supply this definition.  Mere possession of a travel trailer or camper within this state by an owner, whether by in-state purchase or by out-of-state purchase and subsequent removal into this state, constitutes the taxable use ‑ regardless of whether or not the vehicle is actually operated on the highways.

            With this in mind, we now turn to RCW 82.50.030, which establishes the rate of this excise tax upon the possession, in this state, of a travel trailer or camper.  As amended by § 1, chapter 144, Laws of 1972, Ex. Sess., this statute reads as follows:

            "The rate and measure of tax imposed by this chapter for each calendar year shall be two percent of the fair market value of the mobile home ((,))and one percent of the fair market value of the travel trailer ((,)) orthe camper, as determined in the manner provided in this chapter:  PROVIDED, That the calendar year shall be divided into twelve parts corresponding to the months of the calendar year and the excise tax upon a mobile home, travel trailer, or camper used for the first time in this state after the last day of any month shall only be levied for the remaining months of the calendar year including the month in which the mobile home, travel trailer, or camper is first used:  PROVIDED FURTHER, That the minimum amount of tax payable shall be two dollars.

            "A mobile home, travel trailer, or camper shall be deemed used for the first time in this state when such vehicle or such camper was not previously licensed by this state for the year or any part thereof immediately preceding the year in which application for license is made."

            See, also, § 2 of this 1972 act, similarly amending the identical provisions of RCW 82.50.410.  However, because this act contained  [[Orig. Op. Page 5]] no emergency clause or other accelerated effective date, it will not become effective until May 23, 1972 ‑ or ninety days after adjournment of the session.3/   Each of your questions arises by reason of this fact ‑ and against a backdrop of the foregoing analyses of the pertinent statutes, we turn now to these questions.

            Question (1):

            Repeated for ease of reference, your first question (as paraphrased) reads as follows:

            Are owners of travel trailers licensed in this state for 1971, who wait until after May 23, 1972, to pay their 1972 excise tax and to license their travel trailers for this year, entitled to have their 1972 excise tax computed at the new, lower rate?

            In order to avoid being subject to the 1972 excise tax during the period when it was required to have been paid (i.e., between January 1 and February 20 of this year), the owner thereof, under the foregoing analysis, would have to be able to say at the time of his post-May 23, 1972, licensing of this vehicle that he was then using the vehicle in this state for the first time.  However, by virtue of the second paragraph of RCW 82.50.030, surpa, no such claim of "first use" can be made with regard to any travel trailer which was licensed in this state for the year immediately preceding the year in which application for a current license is made.  Therefore, in the case presented by your first question, the owner's delay in paying his 1972 excise tax and in licensing his travel trailer until after May 23, 1972, will have no bearing upon his liability for the full amount of the subject excise tax for all of 1972, computed on the basis of the rate which was in effect when the tax became due and payable ‑ i.e., two percent.  Your first question, therefore, is answered in the negative.

            Questions (2) and (4):

            We believe that these two questions, pertaining to campers, may be considered and answered together.  The essential issue raised by both is whether the "old" two percent excise tax rate is applicable for 1972 taxes in the case of a  [[Orig. Op. Page 6]] camper owned and possessed in this state during all of 1972, but not licensed for the first time until some portion of the year has expired.

            From a licensing standpoint, of course, campers are distinguishable from travel trailers by reason of the fact that until January 1, 1972, campers were not subject to a vehicle licensing requirement at all ‑ whereas travel trailers were.  See, RCW 46.16.505, codifying § 7, chapter 231, Laws of 1971, 1st Ex. Sess.,supra.

            If the proviso and final paragraph of RCW 82.50.030, surpa, purported to correlate the date of a camper's "first use" in this state with the date of its first licensure, it might well be argued that since no campers were licensed in this state ". . . for the year or any part thereof immediately preceding . . ." the current year, no 1972 excise tax is therefore to be deemed due and payable by the owners of such vehicles until they actually obtain their first camper licenses during 1972.  However, this simply is not what RCW 82.50.030 says.

            Instead, the critical final paragraph of this statute merely excludes from the concept of a 1972 "first use" any taxable vehicle which was licensed in this state during the previous year.  Because travel trailers were subject to licensure during 1971, this paragraph, as explained in our response to question (1), supra, has the effect, of and by itself, of preventing an owner of a travel trailer licensed in 1971 from gaining the benefit of a lower rate for his 1972 excise tax by delaying his 1972 licensing until after May 23, 1972 ‑ when § 1, chapter 144,supra, becomes effective.  On the other hand, in the case of a camper,this particular rationale for the conclusion reached in our answer to question (1) is not applicable.

            Nevertheless our ultimate answer must be the same.  Irrespective of its 1971 status insofar as licensure was concerned, any camper which was owned and possessed in the state of Washington during some portion of 1972, prior to May 23, became, by virtue of that fact alone, subject to the camper excise tax at the old, two percent rate.

            Stated in another way, the critical language of RCW 82.50.030 merely denies a 1972 "first use" status to any travel trailer or camper whichwas licensed in this state during 1971.  It does not, however, say that merely because the particular  [[Orig. Op. Page 7]] vehicle was not licensed in 1971, its "first use" in 1972 is to be keyed to the date of its 1972 licensure.  Instead, resort here must be made to the "timetable" language of RCW 82.50.020,supra, in order to determine when the excise tax imposed by this statute becomes payable in a given case ‑ and the statute (repeated for ease of reference) covers this matter as follows:

            ". . .  The tax shall be collected for each calendar year by the department of motor vehicles or the county auditor of the county in which the mobile home, travel trailer, or camper is located at the time payment is made and shall be due on and after January 1st or on the date the mobile home, travel trailer, or camper is first purchased or brought into this state, and paid on or before February 4th of each calendar year or thirty days after the mobile home, travel trailer, or camper is first purchased or brought into this state, whichever is later. . . ."

            Accordingly, we also answer your second and fourth questions in the negative.

            Question (3):

            On the basis of all of the foregoing, this question may now readily be answered.  You have asked:

            (3) Are owners of travel trailers or campers who paid their 1972 excise taxes when due, or between the due date and May 23, 1972, entitled to a refund of some portion of the differential between the old and new rates?

            Consistent with our answers to questions (1), (2) and (4), any owners of travel trailers or campers who paid their 1972 excise taxes when due or between the due date and May 23, 1972, must be deemed to have been governed by the two percent rate then in effect.  We have seen that nothing contained in the amendments to RCW 82.50.030 and 82.50.410 purports to declare the lower, one percent rate, to be applicable for the remainder of the current year in the case of those campers and travel trailers which became subject to the excise tax  [[Orig. Op. Page 8]] at the higher rate prior to the effective date of the amendatory act.  Thus, there would be no basis for refunding to those owners of travel trailers or campers who paid the tax prior to May 23, 1972, any portion of the differential between the old and new rates.

            We trust the foregoing will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

SLADE GORTON
Attorney General


WILLIAM D. DEXTER
Assistant Attorney General


RICHARD A. MATTSEN
Assistant Attorney General

                                                         ***   FOOTNOTES   ***

1/As well as mobile homes, but in this latter case only for the remainder of 1972, because of the provisions of §§ 70-74, chapter 299, Laws of 1971, 1st Ex. Sess., under which all mobile homes will become subject to ad valorem property taxes rather than excise taxes commencing in 1973.

2/Extended by executive order for the current year only to February 20, 1972.

3/See, Washington Constitution, Article II, § 1 (Amendment 7).

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