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AGO 1959 No. 85 - November 18, 1959
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John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington

SCHOOL DISTRICT - BASIS OF VOTE TURNOUT REQUIREMENT AT A SPECIAL ELECTION TO VALIDATE GENERAL OBLIGATION BONDS HELD AFTER THE MARCH GENERAL SCHOOL DISTRICT ELECTION BUT PRIOR TO NOVEMBER STATE GENERAL ELECTION. 

A school district desiring to issue general obligation bonds to be redeemed by excess levies must satisfy the following requirements: (1) That at a special election held to authorize the issuance of the bonds, sixty percent of the persons voting on the proposition approve the same; and (2) that the total number of persons voting on the proposition shall constitute not less than forty percent of the voters in the district who voted at the last preceding general state election.

                                                                   - - - - - - - - - - - - - 

                                                               November 18, 1959 

Honorable Victor A. Meyers
Secretary of State

Legislative Building
Olympia, Washington                                                                                     Cite as:  AGO 59-60 No. 85 

Dear Sir: 

            By letter previously acknowledged, you requested an opinion of this office on a question relating to special school district bond elections.  Your question is as follows: 

            "If a school district should hold a special election in the year 1960, after the March general school district election, but prior to the November state general election, for the purpose of validating a general obligation bond issue to be redeemed by excess levies, can the vote turnout requirement be based upon 40 percent of the vote cast at the March 1960general school district election"?

             We answer your question in the negative. 

                                                                     ANALYSIS 

            The Seventeenth Amendment to the State Constitution, approved November, 1944, established a forty mill cumulative limitation on tax levy assessments.  It provides this limitation may be exceeded only:

              [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            ". . .

             "(b) By any taxing district otherwise authorized by law to issue general obligation bonds for capital purposes, for the sole purpose of making the required payments of principal and interest on general obligation bonds issued solely for capital purposes, other than the replacement of equipment, when authorized so to do by majority of at least three fifths of the electors thereof voting on the proposition to issue such bonds and to pay the principal and interest thereon by an annual tax levy in excess of the limitation herein provided during the term of such bonds, submitted not oftener than twice in any calendar year, at an election held in the manner provided by law for bond elections in such taxing district, at which election the total number of persons voting on the proposition shall constitute not less than forty per centum of the total number of votes cast in such taxing district at the last preceding general election: . . ."  (Emphasis supplied) 

            The latest amendment to the statute implementing the above constitutional authority for the issuance of bonds by municipal corporations is found in section 2, chapter 290, Laws of 1959 (cf. RCW 84.52.056).  Although somewhat different in language, the statutory enactment is substantially the same as the above quoted portion of Amendment Seventeen, except that the statute requires: 

            ". . . the total number of persons voting at such [special bond] election must constitute not less than forty percent of the voters in said municipal corporation who voted at the last precedinggeneral state election."  (Emphasis supplied) 

            Thus, it appears that the legislature, by statute, has increased the minimum voting requirement (set forth in the Seventeenth Amendment) which must be met by a taxing district where it seeks authority to issue general obligation bonds.  The court sustained this power of the legislature in the case of Henderson v. Tumwater, 46 Wn. (2d) 758, 760, 285 P. (2d) 119, wherein it stated: 

            "The legislature had a right to increase the constitutional requirement for such bonds.  InUnion High School Dist. No. 1, Skagit County v. Taxpayers of Union High School Dist. No. 1, Skagit County, 26 Wn. (2d) 1, 172 P. (2d) 591, we said:

              [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            "'The [seventeenth] amendment, when referring to thetaxing district, fixes a minimum requirement with respect to the number of votes necessary to authorize the issuance of general obligation bonds, but it does not expressly or impliedly restrict the legislature's right to impose other, or additional, requirements or limitations upon a district when seeking to incur a public debt.  It fixes aminimum limit of restriction below which the legislature may not go, but it does not prescribe the maximum limitation which the legislature may adopt.'"  (Emphasis supplied)

             See also Seattle School District No. 1 v. Howard Odell et al, 154 Wash. Dec. 874 [[54 Wn.2d 728]].

             Since school districts are municipal corporations (Seattle High School Ch. No. 200 v. Sharples, 159 Wash. 424, 293 Pac. 994;Juntila v. Everett School Dist. No. 24, 178 Wash. 637, 35 P. (2d) 78; RCW 28.58.010) and are "otherwise authorized by law to issue general obligation bonds for capital purposes" (see RCW 28.51.010), they come within the purview of section 2, chapter 290, Laws of 1959, and must, therefore, meet the requirements thereof.

             Accordingly, it is our opinion that the forty mill tax limitation (Amendment Seventeen, supra; see also RCW 84.52.050) may only be exceeded by a school district desiring to issue general obligation bonds where it satisfies the following constitutional and statutory requirements: (1) That at the special election held to authorize the issuance of the bonds to be paid for out of an excess levy, three fifths (sixty percent) of the persons voting on the proposition approve the same; and (2) that the number of persons voting on the proposition "constitute not less than forty percent of the voters in said municipal corporation who voted at the last precedinggeneral state election."  (Emphasis supplied)

             In passing, we should mention that we have not overlooked the recent opinion filed by our Supreme Court in the case ofSeattle School District No. 1 v. Howard Odell et al, supra, wherein the court construed the phrase "last preceding general election" appearing in subsection (a) of the Seventeenth Amendment.  That subsection authorizes a taxing district to exceed the forty mill limitation by the imposition of an excess tax levy under the same conditions as set forth in respect to the issuance of bonds under subsection (b), supra.  The court construed the phrase "last preceding general election" in respect to special school district excess levy elections as meaning the lastgeneral election in the district.

              [[Orig. Op. Page 4]]

            The distinction between the validation of excess levy elections and special school district bond elections lies in the statutes implementing the same.  In respect to the former, the legislature has provided that the number of persons voting on the proposition must constitute "not less than forty percent of the voters in said taxing district . . . who voted at the last preceding general election in such district"; whereas, in the case of the latter, the legislature has imposed the more stringent requirement that the district must meet the requirement of forty percent of the "last preceding general state election."  See section 2, chapter 290, Laws of 1959.  As previously stated, the legislature has the power to increase the minimum voting standards set forth in the Seventeenth Amendment.  Hence, the interpretation of the Seventeenth Amendment by the court in theSeattle School case, supra, does not affect in any way the voting requirements which must be met by a district seeking authority to issue general obligation bonds.

             We trust the foregoing will be of assistance to you.

 Very truly yours,

 JOHN J. O'CONNELL
Attorney General 

ROBERT J. DORAN
Assistant Attorney General

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