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AGO 1962 No. 91 - January 25, 1962
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John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington


OFFICES AND OFFICERS ‑- STATE ‑- HIGHWAY COMMISSION ‑- LEGISLATIVE JOINT FACT-FINDING COMMITTEE ON HIGHWAYS, STREETS AND BRIDGES ‑- DUTY TO EXAMINE FACTORS AND ADJUST ESTIMATED ANNUAL COSTS PER TRUNK MILE FOR COUNTIES.

(1) Under RCW 46.68.120 (3) (e) the legislature has imposed the duty, every four years beginning in 1958, upon the joint fact-finding committee and the highway commission to jointly re‑examine [[reexamine]]all the factors on which the estimated costs per trunk mile for the several counties have been based, and based upon such re‑examination [[reexamination]]and acting in a fact-finding capacity, the highway commission and the joint fact-finding committee are then required jointly to make such adjustments in the estimated annual costs per trunk mile for the several counties as may be necessary.

(2) The estimated annual costs per trunk mile as adjusted by the joint fact-finding committee on highways, streets and bridges and the highway commission, pursuant to RCW 46.68.120, are to be used in making the 1962 allocations of fuel taxes to the counties.

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                                                                 January 25, 1962

Honorable Nat Washington
Chairman, Joint Fact-Finding
Committee on Highways, Streets and Bridges
42 C. Street, N. W.
Ephrata, Washington

                                                                                                                Cite as:  AGO 61-62 No. 91

Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged, you requested an opinion of this office on the following questions:

            "(1) What responsibility, if any, is imposed upon the joint fact-finding committee [on highways, streets and bridges] by RCW 46.68.120 (3) (e), to reexamine and adjust the estimated annual costs per trunk mile for the several counties?

            "(2) Does the proviso in the subsection limit the adjustment of the prorated estimated annual cost per trunk mile, solely to changes in the trunk and total county road mileage?

            "(3) If the subsection requires the joint fact-finding committee (together with the highway  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] commission) to adjust the estimated annual cost per trunk mile for the several counties, are such adjusted costs to be used for the 1962 fuel tax allocations to the counties without further legislative action?"

            In answer to your first question, it is our opinion that under RCW 46.68.120 (3) (e), the legislature has imposed the duty, every four years beginning in 1958, upon the joint fact-finding committee and the highway commission to jointly re‑examine [[reexamine]]all the factors on which the estimated costs per trunk mile for the several counties have been based, and based upon such re‑examination [[reexamination]]and acting in a fact-finding capacity, the highway commission and the joint fact-finding committee are then required jointly to make such adjustments in the estimated annual costs per trunk mile for the several counties as may be necessary.  We answer your second question in the negative, your third question in the affirmative.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            Questions (1) and (2):

            RCW 46.68.120 provides for the distribution of the counties' share of motor vehicle fuel taxes among the several counties.  In summary, ten percent of the net amount available for distribution is to be divided equally among the counties (subsection (3) (a)); thirty percent is to be divided among the counties based upon the number of registered vehicles in each county (subsection (3) (b)); thirty percent is to be divided among the counties on the basis of the product of each county's trunk highway mileage and its "prorated estimated annual cost per trunk mile" (subsection (3) (c)); and thirty percent is to be divided among the counties on the basis of the product of each county's trunk highway mileage and its "money need factor" (subsection (3) (d)).

            Your letter relates to distribution of the thirty percent based upon the trunk highway mileages and prorated estimated annual costs per trunk mile in the several counties, as directed by subsection (3) (c).  This subsection provides in part as follows:

            "Thirty percent shall be paid to each county in direct proportion that the product of the county's trunk highway mileage and its prorated estimated annual cost per trunk mileas provided in subsection (e) is to the sum of such products for all counties. . . ." (Emphasis supplied.)

            Subsection (3) (e) of RCW 46.68.120 provides:

            "Every four years, beginning with the 1958 allocation, the highway commission and the joint  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] fact-finding committee on highways, streets and bridges shall reexamine or cause to be reexamined all the factors on which the estimated annual costs per trunk mile for the several counties have been based and shall make such adjustments as may be necessary.  The following formula shall be used:  One twenty-fifth of the estimated total county road replacement cost, plus the total annual maintenance cost, divided by the total miles of county road in such county, and multiplied by the result obtained from dividing the total miles of county road in said county by the total trunk road mileage in said county.  For the purpose of allocating funds from the motor vehicle fund, a county road shall be defined as one established as such by resolution or order of establishment of the board of county commissioners.  The first allocation of funds shall be based on the following prorated estimated annual costs per trunk mile for the several counties as follows: . . . [Each county is listed with a dollar figure.]

            "Provided, however, That the prorated estimated annual costs per trunk mile in this subsection shall be adjusted every four years, beginning with the 1958 allocation by the highway commission on the basis of changes in the trunk and total county road mileage based on information supplied by the superintendent of public instruction, the United States postal department and the annual reports of the county road departments."

            Also of significance is subsection (3) (g), which provides:

            "The director of highways shall adjust the allocations of the several counties on March 1st of every even-numbered year based solely upon the sources of information hereinbefore required."

            Your letter raises the basic question of whether the language in the proviso to subsection (3) (e) is intended to limit the adjustment of estimated annual costs per trunk mile every four years solely to those adjustments required by changes in the trunk and total county road mileages of the several counties.  Such a construction of the statute would render meaningless the first paragraph of subsection (3) (e) directing that the highway commission and the joint fact-finding committee on highways, streets and bridges shall re‑examine [[reexamine]]"all the factors on which the estimated annual costs per trunk mile for the several counties have been based and shall make such adjustments as may be necessary. . . ."

             [[Orig. Op. Page 4]]

            It is, of course, a basic rule of statutory construction that a statute should, if possible, be so construed that no clause, sentence or word is held to be superfluous, void or insignificant.  See,Public Hosp. Dist. v. Taxpayers, 44 Wn. (2d) 623, 269 P. (2d) 594 (1954);Group Health Etc. v. King Co. Med. Soc., 39 Wn. (2d) 586, 237 P. (2d) 737 (1951).

            If the main part of the subsection required only a re‑examination [[reexamination]]of all the factors on which the estimated costs per trunk mile have been based, then arguably such language might call merely for an informal report to be considered by subsequent legislatures.  The statute goes further, however, and directs that in addition to such re‑examination [[reexamination]]of all the cost factors every four years, the highway commission and joint fact-finding committee shall make such adjustments as may be necessary.  A formula for adjusting the estimated annual costs per trunk mile is then set forth.

            If the proviso were completely repugnant to the first portion of the subsection and limited the adjustment of fuel tax allocations solely to those required by changes in trunk and total county road mileages, still under the prevailing American rule and the Washington rule, the principal part of the statute stands and the proviso falls.  State ex rel. Wilson v. King County, 7 Wn. (2d) 104, 109 P. (2d) 291 (1941); 50 Am.Jur. 460, Statutes § 440.

            However, the proviso is not phrased in such inconsistent terms and we do not, therefore, view the proviso as in any sense repugnant to the first part of the subsection.  Our construction of the statute is governed by the rule that the legislative intent must be gleaned from a consideration of the whole act by giving effect to the entire statute and every part thereof.  DeGrief v. Seattle, 50 Wn. (2d) 1, 297 P. (2d) 940 (1956).

            It is not difficult to harmonize the main portion of subsection (3) (e) and the proviso to that subsection and to ascertain the real intention of the legislature, in the light of the legislative history of RCW 46.68.120.  In construing statutes which re‑enact [[reenact]], with certain changes other statutes, or which contain revisions of earlier laws, resort to the amended statutes may be had, and is of great importance in ascertaining the intention of the legislature.  Graffell v. Honeysuckle, 30 Wn. (2d) 390, 191 P. (2d) 858 (1948).

            RCW 46.68.120 was first enacted in substantially its present form by chapter 243, Laws of 1955.  In the 1955 act, subsections (3) (c) and (3) (e), which together contained the formula for distribution of thirty percent of the counties' fuel tax moneys according to the cost factors, were based upon a 1954 tax allocation study by the joint fact-finding committee on highways, streets and bridges as directed  [[Orig. Op. Page 5]] by § 6 (b), chapter 254, Laws of 1953.  In the 1955 act, subsection (3) (e) contained nearly identical language to the present statute except that the proviso to the subsection stated:

            "Provided, however, That the prorated estimated annual costs per trunk mile in this subsection shall be adjusted biennially by the highway commission on the basis of changes in the trunk and total county road mileage . . ."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            Thus under the 1955 act, in addition to the re‑examination [[reexamination]]and adjustmentevery four years of the estimated annual costs per trunk mile based on all cost factors, the highway commission was directed to adjustbiennially the estimated annual costs per trunk mile based on changes in the trunk and total county road mileage.  Clearly there was no inconsistency between the principal part of subsection (3) (e) and its proviso in the 1955 act.

            The proviso was amended by the 1957 legislature (chapter 109, Laws of 1957) to direct that such adjustments of annual costs per trunk mile based on changes in trunk and total county road mileages should be made every four years at the same time that all cost factor adjustments were made by the highway commission and the joint fact-finding committee on highways, streets and bridges.

            Based on the foregoing we cannot conclude that it was the intention of the legislature in so amending the proviso to nullify the main part of the subsection requiring a re‑examination [[reexamination]]and adjustment every four years of all the factors upon which the estimated annual costs per trunk mile have been based.

            In passing we observe that the foregoing construction of the statute is consistent with the administrative interpretation given the section in 1958, the first year in which the legislature directed that all cost factors should be considered in adjusting the annual costs per trunk mile for the several counties.  While administrative construction is not binding on the court, it has been given weight upon the theory that the legislature by silence has acquiesced in said construction.  See,State ex rel. Cowles v. Schively, 63 Wash. 103, 114 Pac. 901 (1911).  See, alsoWhite v. State, 49 Wn. (2d) 716, 306 P. (2d) 230 (1957).  In this instance, although there have been only two legislative sessions since the construction was placed on the act, nevertheless, legislative acquiescence for even such period is significant.

            In summary we answer your first two questions as follows: Under RCW 46.68.120 (3) (e) the legislature has imposed the duty, every four years beginning in 1958, upon the joint fact-finding committee and the highway commission to jointly re‑examine [[reexamine]]all the factors on which the estimated costs per trunk mile for the several counties have been based.  Based upon such re‑examination [[reexamination]]and acting in a fact finding  [[Orig. Op. Page 6]] capacity, the highway commission and the joint fact-finding committee are then required jointly to make such adjustments in the estimated annual costs per trunk mile for the several counties as may be necessary.

            Question (3):

            In regard to your third question, it is our opinion that the estimated annual costs per trunk mile as adjusted by the joint fact-finding committee and the highway commission are to be used in making the 1962 allocations of fuel tax moneys to the counties.  RCW 46.68.120 does not require or contemplate legislative action to adopt or otherwise implement the use of the adjusted cost figures.

            Subsection (3) (e) provides for use of the prorated annual cost per trunk mile "as provided in subsection (e)."  Subsection (e) directs the highway commission and the joint fact-finding committee "every four years, beginning with the 1958 allocation" to adjust the estimated annual costs per trunk mile in accordance with a prescribed formula.  Although subsection (e) sets forth a table of prorated estimated annual costs per trunk mile for the several counties, it is clear that such table was to be used only until the first adjusted figures were prepared.  The language of the subsection states:

            ". . . Thefirst allocation of funds shall be based on the following: . . . [table]"  (Emphasis supplied.)

            We conclude that the requirements for adjusting the estimated annual costs per trunk mile and the allocation of fuel tax moneys to the several counties are self-executing and require no legislation for implementation.  Again, this is in accord with the administrative construction placed on the act in 1958.

            We trust the foregoing will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

JOHN J. O'CONNELL
Attorney General

THOMAS R. GARLINGTON
Assistant Attorney General

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