Navigation Top
AGO Logo Graphic
AGO Header Image
File a Complaint
Contact the AGO
AGO 1983 No. 2 - March 14, 1983
AGO Opinion Header Image
Ken Eikenberry | 1981-1992 | Attorney General of Washington

CITIES ‑- COUNTIES ‑- PUBLIC HOUSING AUTHORITIES ‑- APPLICABILITY OF STATE PREVAILING WAGE LAW

 The construction, alteration, repair or improvement (other than ordinary maintenance) of low income housing facilities by a public housing authority established pursuant to chapter 35.82 RCW constitutes a public work which is subject to the provisions of the state prevailing wage law (chapter 39.12 RCW) where it is paid for with state or municipal funds or where, in any event, it gives rise to a lien or charge, on the part of the contractor or others involved, against the property of the housing authority.

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

                                                                  March 14, 1983

Honorable Sam Kinville
Director
Department of Labor and Industries
General Administration Building
O
lympia, Washington 98504

Cite as:  AGO 1983 No. 2                                                                                                                

Dear Sir:

            Thank you for your clarification of the underlying basis for your recent request for our opinion on the following question:

             "Are housing authorities established by Chapter 35.82 of the RCW's considered public agencies as defined in Chapter 39.12 of the RCW's?"

             We answer this question in the manner set forth in our analysis.

                                                                      ANALYSIS                                                          

             Chapter 39.12 RCW contains what is commonly referred to as the state prevailing wage law.  The basic substantive requirement of that law is contained in RCW 39.12.020 as follows:

             "The hourly wages to be paid to laborers, workmen or mechanics, upon all public works and under all public building service maintenance contracts of the state or any county, municipality or political subdivision created by its laws, shall be not less than the prevailing rate of wage for an hour's work in the same trade or  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] occupation in the locality within the state where such labor is performed.  . . ."

             The critical issue, therefore, is whether the construction or improvement of low income housing facilities by a public housing authority established under, and operated pursuant to, chapter 35.82 RCW falls within the meaning of the term "public works" as used in RCW 39.12.020, supra.

             In the absence of a special, statutory, definition it is well established that terms used by the legislature in a statute are to be given their common, ordinary, meaning‑-generally as contained in the standard dictionaries.  See,e.g., Cochran v. Nelson, 26 Wn.2d 82, 173 P.2d 769 (1946) and cases cited therein.  That rule of construction, however, has no application where the particular terms at issue have been expressly defined by the legislature itself.  And, in this instance, we appear to have just such a case.  Although the terms "public work" and "municipality" are not expressly defined in the prevailing wage law (chapter 39.12 RCW), those terms are defined in RCW 39.04.010 which relates, generally, to public works projects.  And, in AGO 59-60 No. 156, copy enclosed, this office determined that those statutory definitions should be deemed to be applicable for the purposes of chapter 39.12 RCW as well.  As explained therein at page two,

             ". . . Our court has held many times that this course [i.e., resort to other statutes dealing with the same subject] is proper under the well-established rule of statutory construction that all statutes on a given subject must be construed, if possible, so that the integrity of all will be maintained.  . . ."

             In addition, we further note that this approach was later confirmed by the legislature itself in 1977 when, by its enactment of § 1, chapter 177, Laws of 1977, 1st Ex. Sess., it added the following sentence to the definition of "public work" in RCW 39.04.010:

             ". . . All public works, including maintenance when performed by contract shall comply with the provisions of RCW 39.12.020."

             Thus, the full definition of "public work" in RCW 39.04.010, supra, now reads as follows:

             "The term public work shall include all work,  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] construction, alteration, repair, or improvement other than ordinary maintenance, executed at the cost of the state or of any municipality, or which is by law a lien or charge on any property therein, but nothing herein shall apply to the construction, alteration, repair, or improvement of any municipal street railway system.  All public works, including maintenance when performed by contract shall comply with the provisions of RCW 39.12.020."

             A "municipality," likewise, is defined by RCW 39.04.010 as follows:

             "The term municipality shall include every city, county, town, districtor other public agency thereof which is authorized by law to require the execution of public work, except drainage districts, diking districts, diking and drainage improvement districts, drainage improvement districts, diking improvement districts, consolidated diking and drainage improvement districts, consolidated drainage improvement districts, consolidated diking improvement districts, irrigation districts or any such other districts as shall from time to time be authorized by law for the reclamation or development of waste or undeveloped lands."  (Emphasis supplied)

             We next turn to chapter 35.82 RCW.  That law relates to the establishment and operation of public housing authorities and we particularly note the following language of RCW 35.82.030 and 35.82.070:

 RCW 35.82.030:

             "In each city (as herein defined) and in each county of the state there is hereby createda public body corporate and politic to be known as the 'Housing Authority' of the city or county: . . .  (Emphasis supplied)

             RCW 35.82.070:

             "An authority shall constitute a public body corporate and politic, exercising public and essential governmental functions, and having all the powers necessary or convenient to carry out and effectuate the purposes and provisions of this chapter, including the following powers in addition to others herein granted:

              [[Orig. Op. Page 4]]

            "(1) To sue and be sued; to have a seal and to alter the same at pleasure; to have perpetual succession; to make and execute contracts and other instruments necessary or convenient to the exercise of the powers of the authority;  and to make and from time to time amend and repeal bylaws, rules and regulations, not inconsistent with this chapter, to carry into effect the powers and purposes of the authority.

             "(2) Within its area of operation:  to prepare, carry out, acquire, lease and operate housing projects; to provide for the construction, reconstruction, improvement, alteration or repair of any housing project or any part thereof; to agree to rent or sell dwellings forming part of the projects to or for persons of low income . . ."

             Clearly, in our opinion, a housing authority of a city is a public agency thereof; and a housing authority of a county is, by the same token, a public agency thereof.1/   Accordingly, the housing authority is, itself, a "municipality" as defined in RCW 39.04.010, supra.  And, in turn, its construction, alteration, repair or improvement (other than ordinary maintenance) constitutes a form of "public work" as defined in the same statute‑-assuming that (in the further words of that latter definition) it is ". . . executed at the cost of the state or of any municipality, or . . . is by law a lien or charge on any property therein . . ."

            In connection with this last quoted portion of RCW 39.04.010, we understand it to have been suggested that where a given project is paid for entirely with federal (rather than state or municipal) funds the prevailing wage law should, for that reason, be regarded as inapplicable.  Even in such a case, however, the contractor would (in any case of which we can conceive) have a lien against the property of the housing authority for payment. See,e.g., RCW 60.04.010.  And that, by itself, would cause the project to constitute a "public work" as above defined‑-regardless of its principal source of funding.  Nevertheless we must, of course, bear that condition in mind in framing our ultimate answer to your question‑-which, on the basis of the foregoing, is as follows:

             The construction, alteration, repair or improvement (other than ordinary maintenance) of low income housing facilities by a  [[Orig. Op. Page 5]] public housing authority established pursuant to chapter 35.82 RCW constitutes a public work which is subject to provisions of the state prevailing wage law (chapter 39.12 RCW) where it is paid for with state or municipal fundsor where, in any event, it gives rise to a lien or charge, on the part of the contractor or others involved, against the property of the housing authority.

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

 Very truly yours,
KENNETH O. EIKENBERRY
Attorney General

PHILIP H. AUSTIN
Senior Deputy Attorney General 

THORTON WILSON
Assistant Attorney General 

                                                         ***   FOOTNOTES   ***

1/Accord, the express language of RCW 35.82.030 which so states.

Content Bottom Graphic
AGO Logo