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AGO 1993 No. 7 - April 23, 1993
AGO Opinion Header Image
Christine Gregoire | 1993-2004 | Attorney General of Washington

TAXATION--PROPERTY--DISTRICTS--MEDICAL AID--Applicability of the 106 percent limit to levy for emergency medical care

RCW 84.52.069(2) authorizes certain taxing districts to levy a regular property tax for emergency medical care and medical services.  RCW 84.55.010 establishes the 106 percent limit which is applicable to regular property tax levies.  The 106 percent limit applies to the emergency medical care levy after the first year.

                                                                   * * * * * * * * * *

                                                                   April 23, 1993

HonorableWilliam J. Hawkins
Island County Prosecuting Attorney
Post Office Box 5000                                                       
Coupeville, WA  98239                                                                                     Cite as:AGO 1993 No. 7

Dear Mr. Hawkins:

            By letter previously acknowledged you requested our opinion on the following question:

            Are the six-year emergency medical care and services property tax levies authorized by the voters pursuant to RCW 84.52.069(2) subject to the 106 percent limitation of RCW 84.55.010?

            The answer to this question is yes.  After the first year, the 106 percent limitation applies to emergency medical care and services levies.

                                                                    ANALYSIS

            Your question concerns the six-year levy for emergency medical care and services authorized by RCW 84.52.069.  This statute permits certain taxing districts including cities, counties, and emergency medical service districts to levy a tax to be used to provide emergency medical care and medical services.  The authority to levy the tax is contained in RCW 84.52.069(2), which provides in part:

                        A taxing district may impose additional regular property tax levies in an amount equal to fifty cents or less per thousand dollars of the assessed value of property in the taxing district in each year for six consecutive years when specifically authorized so to do by a majority of at least three-fifths of the registered voters thereof approving a proposition authorizing the levies submitted at a general or special election, at which election the number of persons voting "yes" on the proposition shall constitute three-fifths of a number equal to forty per centum of the total votes cast in such taxing district at the last preceding general election[.]

(Emphasis added.)  RCW 84.52.069(2) authorizes the voters of a taxing district to approve a regular levy of up to 50 cents per thousand of the assessed value of property in the taxing district for up to six years.

            You have asked whether the 106 percent limit applies to this levy.  The 106 percent limit is contained in RCW 84.55.010 which provides: 

                        Except as provided in this chapter, the levy for a taxing district in any yearshall be set so that the regular property taxes payable in the following year shall not exceed one hundred six percent of the amount of regular property taxes lawfully levied for such district in the highest of the three most recent years in which such taxes were levied for such district plus an additional dollar amount calculated by multiplying the increase in assessed value in that district resulting from new construction, improvements to property, and any increase in the assessed value of state-assessed property by the regular property tax levy rate of that district for the preceding year.

(Emphasis added.)  RCW 84.55.010 limits regular property taxes to 106 percent of the amount of regular property taxes levied (plus certain additions such as new construction) in the district in the highest of the three most recent years.

            The 106 percent limit frequently operates to reduce the tax levy of a district.  For example, RCW 84.52.069(2) authorizes an emergency medical care levy of 50 cents or less per thousand dollars of assessed value.  If the 106 percent limit applies and a levy of 50 cents would raise an amount that exceeds 106 percent (plus additions) of the regular property taxes levied by the district for the highest of the last three years, the district would be prohibited from levying the full 50 cents.  The district would have to reduce the levy to a rate that falls within the 106 percent limit (e.g., 40 cents per thousand).

            Under RCW 84.55.010 the 106 percent limit applies to "regular property taxes".  In RCW 84.52.069(2) the Legislature referred to the emergency medical care levy as an "additional regular property tax".  Thus, on its face, the 106 percent limit applies to the emergency medical care levy.

            The chapter setting out the 106 percent limit also contains a definition of "regular property taxes" at RCW 84.55.005 indicating that the "term 'regular property taxes' has the meaning given it in RCW 84.04.140".  In turn, RCW 84.04.140 defines the term "regular property taxes" with reference to the limits imposed upon them:

                        The term "regular property taxes" and the term "regular property tax levy" shall mean a property tax levy by or for a taxing district which levy is subject to the aggregate limitation set forth in RCW 84.52.043 and 84.52.050[.]

            For purposes of this opinion, the relevant limitation is RCW 84.52.043.  This statute establishes rate limits for certain levies (e.g., the state levy is limited to $3.60 per thousand dollars of assessed value).  RCW 84.52.043(2) also limits the aggregate levies of senior and junior taxing districts to $5.90 per thousand dollars of assessed value.

            However, the limit in RCW 84.52.043, by its own terms, does not apply to the emergency medical care levy authorized by RCW 84.52.069.  RCW 84.52.043(2)(d).  In addition, RCW 84.52.069(5) specifically excludes the emergency medical care levy from the statutory rate limits in RCW 84.52.043.  This exemption from the statutory rate limit requirements in RCW 84.52.043 places the emergency medical care levy outside the precise definition of "regular property taxes" in RCW 84.04.140, incorporated into the 106 percent limit by RCW 84.55.005.

            Therefore, it might be argued that the emergency medical care levy is not a "regular property tax" and is not subject to the 106 percent limit.

            We are not persuaded by this argument.  As we have already noted, RCW 84.52.069(2) describes the tax for emergency medical care as an "additional regular property tax" levy.  We believe that this specific statement by the Legislature is controlling.  Furthermore, to the extent the definitions of "regular property tax" in RCW 84.55.005 and 84.04.140 create an ambiguity, we conclude that the Legislature intended the emergency medical care levy to fall within the 106 percent limit after the first year.

            The Legislature specifically addressed the application of the 106 percent limit to the emergency care levy in RCW 84.52.069(6), which provides:  "The limitation in RCW 84.55.010 shall not apply to the first levy imposed pursuant to this section following the approval of such levy by the voters pursuant to subsection (2) of this section."  Thus, the Legislature provided that the 106 percent limit does not apply to the first year of the emergency medical care levy.  This creates the inference that the 106 percent limit does apply to the other years of the levy.  In re Eaton, 110 Wn.2d 892, 898, 757 P.2d 961 (1988) ("where a statute designates a list of things whereupon the statute operates, the inference arises that the Legislature intended to omit other things not listed").

            Furthermore, if the emergency medical care levy fell outside the 106 percent limit, it would have been unnecessary to pass a statute excluding only the first year of the levy from the limit.  It is presumed that the Legislature does not engage in unnecessary or meaningless acts.  State v. McCullum, 98 Wn.2d 484, 493, 656 P.2d 1064 (1983).

            The legislative history of the authorizing statute further demonstrates an intent to apply the 106 percent limit to emergency medical services levies after the first year.  Legislative history, including changes in a bill as it moves from introduction to enactment, is an acknowledged tool in determining the proper interpretation of a statute.  State v. Cleppe, 96 Wn.2d 373, 378-80, 635 P.2d 435 (1981); Gates v. Jensen, 92 Wn.2d 246, 253-54, 595 P.2d 919 (1979).

            The legislation establishing a six-year regular property tax levy in support of emergency medical care and services was passed in 1979 as Second Substitute House Bill 1239.  Laws of 1979, 1st Ex. Sess., ch. 200.  House Bill 1239, as originally introduced, completely exempted emergency medical services levies from the 106 percent limitation in RCW 84.55.010.  Section 1(6) at that time read:  "The limitation in RCW 84.55.010 shall not apply to any levy under this section."  House Bill 1239, 46th Legislature (1979).  This language reflected an intent to allow emergency medical services levies to grow without the limitation imposed by RCW 84.55.010.  This language, however, was deleted from the bill and an amendment, providing relief from the 106 percent limit for only the initial levy, was substituted.

            This change in language demonstrates a legislative intent to subject emergency medical services levies to the 106 percent limitation except for the first year of the six-year term.  This intent was made explicit in the House of Representatives proceedings adopting the amendment in section 1(6) of the bill.  When speaking in support of her proposed amendment, Representative Craswell stated:

            Thank you Mr. Speaker, members of the House.  This is the other half of the corrective measure the committee would like to take care of the problem that Representative Sommers just referred to.  This puts the new emergency services levy back under the 106 percent lid which the committee had attempted to do in the first place but was running into problems with the 1 percent lid.  So, with this amendment, it would then have to be within the 106 percent lid.  I urge your support.

SeeHouse Journal, 46th Legislature (1979), at 1327 (emphasis added).[1]  The amendment was adopted and the new limitation, with minor wording changes by the Senate,[2] became part of the final enactment.

            The intent to place the emergency care levy under the 106 percent limit after the first year is also confirmed by the Final Legislative Report on Second Substitute House Bill 1239, which provides in part:

            Counties, emergency medical service districts, cities, towns, public hospital districts, and fire protection districts are permitted to impose an additionalregular property tax levy of twenty-five cents or less per thousand dollars of assessed valuation to fund emergency medical care and services. . . . This tax levy is in addition to the $9.15 per thousand dollars of assessed valuation statutory limitation on regular property taxes.  The initial levy of this tax for each six year period by such an entity is exempted from the 106 percent limitation.

1979 Final Legislative Report, 2SHB 1239, at 103 (emphasis in original).

            The Final Legislative Report provides that only the initial year of the emergency medical care levy is exempt from the 106 percent limit.  It is also significant that the word "regular" is underlined in the report.  This emphasis demonstrates that the Legislature was aware and intended the levy for emergency medical care to be a regular property tax.  The Legislature emphasized that it was a regular property tax levy even though the final report also states that the $9.15[3]limitation (in RCW 84.52.043(2)) does not apply.

            Therefore, despite any inconsistency between the definition of "regular property taxes", in RCW 84.04.140, and the emergency medical care levy authorized by RCW 84.52.069(2), it is our opinion that the Legislature's more specific intent is expressed in the authorizing legislation.  RCW 84.52.069 exempts the emergency medical care levy from the 106 percent limitation for only the first year.  Provisions of a specific statute, such as RCW 84.52.069, prevail if there is a conflict with a general statute.  General Tel. Co. v. Utilities & Transp. Comm'n, 104 Wn.2d 460, 464, 706 P.2d 625 (1985);Muije v. Department of Social & Health Servs., 97 Wn.2d 451, 453, 645 P.2d 1086 (1982).  Therefore, we conclude that emergency medical care levies authorized by the voters pursuant to RCW 84.52.069(2), are properly considered regular property taxes subject to the 106 percent limitation after the first year of the levy.

            We trust this opinion will be of assistance to you.

                                                                        Very truly yours,

                                                                        CHRISTINE O. GREGOIRE
                                                                        Attorney General

                                                                        PHYLLIS K. MACLEOD
                                                                        Assistant Attorney General

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    [1]Representative Craswell's remarks are taken from a tape recording of floor action on House Bill 1239, maintained by the Chief Clerk of the House.

    [2]The language was amended by the Senate to read the "first" year rather than the "initial" levy.  Senate Journal, 46th Legislature (1979), at 2390.  The House concurred in the Senate amendment.  House Journal, 46th Legislature (1979), at 1756.

    [3]The $9.15 limitation in RCW 84.52.043 has been modified since the Final Legislative Report was issued in 1979.  At present, the limitation is $5.90.  Laws of 1990, ch. 234, §1, p. 1280.

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