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AGO 1983 No. 6 - March 29, 1983
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Ken Eikenberry | 1981-1992 | Attorney General of Washington

DISTRICTS ‑- HOSPITAL ‑- COMMISSIONERS ‑- COMPENSATION ‑- CONSTITUTIONALLY RESTRICTED INCREASE IN COMPENSATION 

In the event that the currently serving commissioners of a public hospital district by duly adopted resolution raise their own daily rate of compensation from $25 per day to $40 per day in accordance with RCW 70.44.050 as amended by § 14, chapter 84, Laws of 1982, those increases (as to each such commissioner) may not constitutionally take effect until the commencement of his or her next ensuing term of office. 

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                                                                  March 29, 1983 

Honorable Gary A. Nelson
House Republican Leader
418 Legislative Building
Olympia, Washington 98504

Cite as:  AGO 1983 No. 6                                                                                                                  

 Dear Representative Nelson:

             By recent letter you requested our opinion on the following question:

             "May the currently serving commissioners of public hospital districts by duly adopted resolution lawfully raise their daily rate of compensation, as well as their maximum annual amount of compensation, to be effective during their respective terms of office in accordance with the provisions of RCW 70.44.050 as now in effect?"

             We answer the foregoing question in the negative for the reasons set forth in our analysis.

                                                                      ANALYSIS

             Article 30, § 1 (Amendment 54) of the Washington Constitution provides that:

             "The compensation of all elective and appointive state, county, and municipal officerswho do not fix their own compensation, including judges of courts of record and the justice courts may be increased during their terms of office to the end that such officers and judges shall  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] each severally receive compensation for their services in accordance with the law in effect at the time the services are being rendered.

             "The provisions of section 25 of Article II (Amendment 35), section 25 of Article III (Amendment 31), section 13 of Article IV, section 8 of Article XI, and section 1 of Article XXVIII (Amendment 20) insofar as they are inconsistent herewith are hereby repealed."  (Emphasis supplied)

             RCW 70.44.050, in turn, relates to the compensation which is payable to members of the elected boards of commissioners of public hospital districts in this state.  Your question arises by reason of certain amendments to that statute contained in § 14, chapter 84, Laws of 1982.  Set forth in bill form for ease of comprehension, the subject statute was thereby amended as follows:

             "A district may provide by resolution for the payment of compensation to each of its commissioners at a rate not exceeding ((twenty-five)) forty dollars for each day or major part thereof devoted to the business of the district, and days upon which he attends meetings of the commission of his own district, or meetings attended by one or more commissioners of two or more districts called to consider business common to them, except that the total compensation paid to such commissioner during any one year shall not exceed ((one)) two thousand ((two))four hundred dollars: . . ."

             The issue thus raised is readily apparent.  Do the commissioners of a public hospital district, in adopting a resolution increasing their own daily rate of compensation from $25 to $40, fix their own compensation within the meaning of Article III, § 1 (Amendment 54), supra?

             We believe that they do‑-meaning, in turn, that your question (as above stated) must be answered in the negative.  By the passage of such a resolution the commissioners, in our judgment, would clearly be increasing their own compensation.  Accordingly, any such increases may not constitutionally take effect until the commencement of each commissioner's next ensuing term of office.

             In thus concluding, we have (as you requested) given careful consideration to the recent decision of Division I of the Washington Court of Appeals inPublic Hospital District No. 1 of  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] King County v. State of Washington, 24 Wn.App. 363, 601 P.2d 958 (1979).  We believe, however, that this case is readily distinguishable.

             Public Hospital District v. State, supra, involved another, earlier, amendment to RCW 70.44.050.  By its enactment of § 1, chapter 42, Laws of 1975, the legislature amended that statute, as it then read, as follows (again set forth in bill form for ease of understanding):

             "A district may provide by resolution for the payment of compensation to each of its commissioners at a rate not exceeding twenty-five dollars for each day or major part thereof devoted to the business of the district, and days upon which he attends meetings of the commission of his own district, or meetings attended by one or more commissioners of two or more districts called to consider business common to them, except that the total compensation paid to such commissioner during any one year shall not exceed ((six))one thousand two hundred dollars: . . ."

             What will be readily noted, however, is that this 1975 amendment did not authorize the commissioners of a public hospital district to do anything by way of changing the rate of their compensation; i.e., $25 per day. Rather, the amendment merely made it possible for the commissioners, by putting in more days of work each year, to receive a greater amount of annual compensation than before.  And it was, in turn, on that basis that the Court rejected the contention that a constitutionally restricted mid-term pay raise was nevertheless present.  We here quote the pertinent portion of the Court's opinion, at page 368, as follows:

             "Words used in a constitution are to be understood in their usual and ordinary sense.  Gruen v. Tax Comm'n, 35 Wn.2d 1, 53, 211 P.2d 651 (1949).  If persons employed at a daily wage in the general job market see fit to work more days (or less days) in one given time period than in another, it is unlikely that anyone would seriously contend that by so doing they thereby 'fix their own compensation.'  So it is here that the commissioners by working more days, as required by their hospital district duties, do not thereby 'fix their own compensation' within the contemplation of article 30, section 1 of the Washington State Constitution.  'To fix compensation is to name it,' Commonwealth v. Rose, 160 Va. 177, 180, 168  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] S.E. 356 (1933), and here the annual compensation ceiling was named by the legislature not the commissioners."

             Conversely, in exercising their authority under RCW 70.44.050,supra, as amended by § 14, chapter 84, Laws of 1982, the commissioners of a public hospital districtare naming, or "fixing," the actual rate of their own compensation.

             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

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