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AGO 1959 No. 31 - April 28, 1959
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John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington


1. Property belonging exclusively to a municipal corporation of an adjoining state which is empowered by that state to acquire property in this state and which is used for airport purposes and upon which federal, county or state agencies expend funds is exempt from ad valorem taxation by this state.

2. The real property in question belonging to the municipal corporation of an adjoining state is subject to irrigation district assessments.

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                                                                   April 28, 1959

Honorable Thurman E. Ward
Prosecuting Attorney
Klickitat County
Goldendale, Washington                                                                                                   Cite as:  AGO 59-60 No. 31

Dear Sir:

            This is in reply to your request for an opinion relating to the taxation of real and personal property within this state but owned by a city in Oregon.  It appears that The Dalles, Oregon, owns a municipal airport in Klickitat County, Washington.  This airport is operated under a lease to private individuals.  You ask:

            (1) Is this real and personal property subject to general ad valorem taxation; and

            (2) Is the real estate subject to irrigation district assessment?

            The answer to your first question is contained in the analysis, and we answer the second question in the affirmative.


            The Fourteenth Amendment to the State Constitution grants certain tax exemptions and has been construed by our court as self-executing.  Puget  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] Sound P. & L. v. Cowlitz Co., 38 Wn. (2d) 907, 234 P. (2d) 506.  It provides in material part as follows:

            ". . . Such property as the legislature may by general laws provide shall be exempt from taxation.  Property of the United States and of the state, counties, school districts and other municipal corporations . . . shall be exempt from taxation. . . ."

            By the great weight of authority, constitutional and statutory provisions similar to the last sentence quoted above do not exempt from taxation property located in one state owned by a municipal corporation of another state.  Spokane Valley L. & W. Co. v. Kootenai County, Idaho, 199 Fed. 481; City Council of Augusta, Ga. v. Timmerman, 233 Fed. 216; State v. Holcomb, 85 Kan. 178, 116 Pac. 251;The People v. City of St. Louis, 291 Ill. 600, 126 N.E. 529;State v. City of Hudson, 231 Minn. 127, 42 N.W. (2d) 546; People v. Streeper, 12 Ill. (2d) 204, 145 N.E. (2d) 625.

            The law is aptly stated in the Holcomb case as follows:

            ". . . The general rule is that all property, not expressly exempted, is taxable, and the fact that the state does not tax itself and its municipalities to obtain revenue for itself is no reason why a foreign municipality, who is here in the capacity of a private proprietor, and whose property receives protection from the state, should contribute nothing towards that protection or should escape paying the taxes imposed upon other owners of property. It is clear that the exemptions from taxation, provided for the state and for cities and municipalities of the state, are only declaratory of the immunity that would be granted on fundamental principles of government, and that the cities and municipalities referred to in the statute and Constitution are those of our own state."

            Therefore, any tax exemption for The Dalles must be found in a specific statute.

            With respect to general property taxation, RCW 84.36.130 provides as follows:

            "All property belonging exclusively to any municipal corporation in an adjoining state, legally empowered by the laws of such adjoining state to acquire and  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] hold property within this state, and which property is used primarily for airport purposes and facilities for landing, terminals, housing, repair, and care of dirigibles, airplanes, and seaplanes for the aerial transportation of persons, property, or mail, or the armed forces of the United States, and upon which property there is expended funds by federal, county, or state agencies, or upon which funds are allocated by the federal government for national defense projects, is exempt from ad valorem taxation."

            From information we have, we will assume for purposes of this opinion that the property here involved belongs exclusively to The Dalles; that the State of Oregon has authorized its cities to own property within the State of Washington; and that the property is used primarily for airport purposes.  We do not know whether there is expended on the airport any funds by federal, county or state agencies, or whether federal funds are allocated thereto for national defense projects.

            If any such funds are being so used, the other statutory requirements having been met, the real and personal property constituting the airport and owned by The Dalles is exempt from ad valorem taxation.  If such public expenditures are not being made, such property is not exempt.  In either event, the leasehold interest is taxable to the lessee, Moeller v. Gormley, 44 Wash. 465, 87 Pac. 507, as either real or personal property depending upon the length of the term.  RCW 84.04.080 and 84.04.090.

            RCW 84.36.130,supra, grants an exemption only from ad valorem taxation which is based upon the value of property.  1 Cooley, Taxation (4th Ed.) § 52.  Irrigation district assessments are levied not on value but in proportion to the benefits accruing to the land assessed.  RCW 87.32.010.  We therefore conclude that the real estate of The Dalles is liable for irrigation district assessments.

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General

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