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AGO 1984 No. 6 - February 23, 1984
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Ken Eikenberry | 1981-1992 | Attorney General of Washington

DISTRICTS ‑- PORTS ‑- TAXATION ‑- ELECTIONS ‑- NECESSITY FOR VOTER APPROVAL OF CERTAIN PORT DISTRICT TAX LEVIES 

Voter approval only constitutes a condition precedent to continuation of a port district tax levy under RCW 53.36.100, after the sixth year of the levy, in those instances where, in response to publication of the district's notice of intent to continue the levy, a sufficient petition in opposition thereto has been circulated and filed with the county auditor. 

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                                                                February 23, 1984

Honorable Ralph Munro
Secretary of State
Legislative Building
Olympia, Washington 98504

Cite as:  AGO 1984 No. 6                                                                                                                  

 Dear Sir:

             By recent letter you directed our attention to the provisions of RCW 53.36.100, as amended by § 1, chapter 3, Laws of 1982, 1st Ex. Sess., and then posed the following questions (with your comments):

             "1.  Is an election required only if a petition is filed?  The statute does not specifically state that this is the case.

             "2.  If no petition is filed may the levies be made?  The last sentence of RCW 53.36.100 would seem to indicate that levies may only be made subsequent to approval by the voters, which of course would require an election.

             "3.  If an election is required prior to any levy of taxes, what is the purpose of the publication of the notice and the petition process?  The enclosed bill report seems to indicate that it was not the legislature's intent that such a levy be automatically submitted to the voters, yet this stated intent is difficult to reconcile with the last sentence of the statute."

            [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            We respond in the manner set forth in our analysis.

                                                                      ANALYSIS

             Set forth in full, in bill form for ease of reference, the statute you have cited, as thus amended, now reads as follows:

             "A port district having adopted a comprehensive scheme of harbor improvements and industrial developments may thereafter raise revenue, for ((six))twelve years only, in addition to all other revenues now authorized by law, by an annual levy not to exceed forty-five cents per thousand dollars of assessed value against the assessed valuation of the taxable property in such port district.  Said levy shall be used exclusively for the exercise of the powers granted to port districts under chapter 53.25 RCW except as provided in RCW 53.36.110.  The levy of such taxes is herein authorized notwithstanding the provisions of RCW 84.52.050 and 84.52.043.  The revenues derived from levies made under RCW 53.36.100 and 53.36.110 not expended in the year in which the levies are made may be paid into a fund for future use in carrying out the powers granted under chapter 53.25 RCW, which fund may be accumulated and carried over from year to year, with the right to continue to levy the taxes provided for in RCW 53.36.100 and 53.36.110 for the purposes herein authorized.

             "If a port district intends to levy a tax under this section for one or more years after the first six years authorized in this section, the port commission shall publish notice of this intention, in one or more newspapers of general circulation within the district, by June 1 of the year in which the first levy of the seventh through twelfth year period is to be made.  If within ninety days of the date of publication a petition is filed with the county auditor containing the signatures of eight percent of the number of voters registered and voting in the port district for the office of the governor at the last preceding gubernatorial election, the county auditor shall canvass the signatures in the same manner as prescribed in RCW 29.79.200 and certify their sufficiency to the port commission within two weeks.  The proposition to make these levies in the seventh through twelfth year period shall be submitted to the voters of the port district at a special election,  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] called for this purpose, no later than the date on which a primary election would be held under RCW 29.13.070.  The levies may be made in the seventh through twelfth year period only if approved by a majority of the voters of the port district voting on the proposition."

             Your basic question, as we understand it, is whether approval by the voters of a port district is required in order for such a district to levy the subject tax during the "seventh through twelfth year period" even where no petition was filed with the county auditor under the second sentence of the new (amendatory) paragraph of the statute.  In other words, is voter approval a required condition precedent to such a continuation of the levy in all cases or only in those instances where (following notice by the district of its intent to continue the levy) a sufficient petition in opposition to such action has been filed?

            In posing this inquiry you have informed us that the apparent intent of the legislature‑-as evidenced by a bill report prepared by House of Representatives staff while the measure was pending before the 1982 legislature‑-was to the effect that,

             "Voter approval is required for levies in the seventh through the 12th year [only] if eight percent of the voters in the port district sign a petition to put the matter on a ballot."

             Nevertheless, you suggest,

             ". . . this stated intent is difficult to reconcile with the last sentence of the statute."

             We would agree on that count if the last sentence of the statute, as amended, was properly to be read in isolation.  Literally, that sentence says:

             ". . . The levies may be made in the seventh through twelfth year period only if approved by a majority of the voters of the port district voting on the proposition."

             It is well settled, however, that provisions such as this are not to be read in isolation but, instead, are to be read in context with the remainder of the statute as a whole.  As explained inState ex rel. Tarver v. Smith, 78 Wn.2d 152, 155, 470 P.2d 172 (1970):

              [[Orig. Op. Page ]]

            "The main purpose of statutory interpretation is first to ascertain and then to give effect to the legislative intention.  Krystad v. Lau, 65 Wn.2d 827, 844, 400 P.2d 72 (1965).  In discharging this duty, the court first looks at the language of the statute.  Schneider v. Forcier, 67 Wn.2d 161, 406 P.2d 935 (1965).  If the language is clear and the meaning plain, the statute needs no construction and the courts will neither read into it things which are not there nor amend it by construction.  King County v. Seattle, 70 Wn.2d 988, 425 P.2d 887 (1967).  A statute should be read as a whole and legislative intent derived from it as a whole.  Krystad v. Lau, supra; Finley v. Finley, 43 Wn.2d 755, 264 P.2d 246 (1953).  Legislative intent cannot be ascertained from a single sentence or even a solitary isolated paragraph (Markham Adv. Co. v. State, 73 Wn.2d 405, 439 P.2d 248 (1968)), for the meaning of a particular part or section of a statute is to be taken in context with the parts or sections in which it is found.  Nationwide Papers, Inc. v. Northwest Egg Sales, Inc., 69 Wn.2d 72, 416 P.2d 687 (1966);Mercer Island v. Kaltenbach, 60 Wn.2d 105, 371 P.2d 1009 (1962)."

             Another, equally well settled, principle of statutory construction is that statutes should not be interpreted in such a manner as to render any portion meaningless, superfluous or questionable.  Avlonitis v. Seattle District Court, 97 Wn.2d 131, 641 P.2d 169, 646 P.2d 128 (1982).  For it is, of course, presumed that the legislature does not engage in unnecessary or meaningless acts.  State v. Wanrow, 88 Wn.2d 221, 559 P.2d 548 (1977).  As a consequence, the courts will presume some significant purpose or objective in every legislative enactment.  John H. Sellen Construction Co. v. State Department of Revenue, 87 Wn.2d 878, 558 P.2d 342 (1976).

 In this instance, however, that fundamental principle of statutory construction would seemingly be violated if the sentence to which you have referred were to be read, in isolation, as an unqualified limitation upon the authority of a port district to impose the subject tax during the seventh through twelfth year period provided for in the statute.  Indeed, under such a reading of the statute both the publication of notice by the district of its intent to continue imposing the levy and the responsive circulation and filing of petitions in opposition thereto would be vain and meaningless actions.

              [[Orig. Op. Page 5]]

            In addition, our research has also disclosed that twice during the 1982 legislative session at which the statutory provision here under consideration was enacted there were attempts made to require automatic voter approval of all port district levies made pursuant to RCW 53.36.100‑-once in the Senate and once in the House.  Both times, however, that approach was rejected by action in the Senate.  First, on March 2, 1982, the Senate rejected a proposed amendment by Senator Vognild to that effect.  See, Senate Journal, page 1131.  Then later, on March 18, 1982, the Senate refused to concur in a House amendment which would have imposed a similar requirement.  See, House Journal, 1982, page 1049.

             Based upon the foregoing analysis, we therefore conclude, in direct answer to your inquiry, that voter approval only constitutes a condition precedent to any further RCW 53.36.100 port district tax levy after the sixth year in those instances where, in response to publication of the district's notice of intent to continue the levy,1/ a sufficient petition in opposition thereto has been circulated and filed with the county auditor.

             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 

                                                         ***   FOOTNOTES   ***

 1/Clearly, of course, publication of that notice is a condition precedent to continuation of the levy.

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