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Bob Ferguson

AGO 1955 No. 58 - Apr 13 1955
Attorney General Don Eastvold


Cities ‑- Legislature may provide limits on the salaries of city officials even though the action contravenes the charter provisions of the cities affected.

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                                                                   April 13, 1955

Honorable A. L. Rasmussen
State Representative
4031 Pacific Avenue
Tacoma 8, Washington                                                                                                                Cite as:  AGO 55-57 No. 58

Dear Sir:

            In your previously acknowledged letter of March 28, 1955 you have requested our opinion on the constitutionality of

            1. Senate Bill 210, chapter 309, Laws of 1955, which changes the provisions of the existing statutes relating to the salaries of mayors and councilmen of second and third class cities, and

            2. Substitute House Bill 380, chapter 354, Laws of 1955, which prescribes the salaries of certain elected officials in first class cities.

            In our opinion, both of these bills are constitutional.


            To completely answer your questions, it is necessary to refer to three provisions of our constitution.

            Article 2, section 25 provides:

            "The legislature shall never grant any extra compensation to any public officer, agent, servant,  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] or contractor, after the services shall have been rendered, or the contract entered into, nor shall the compensation of any public officer be increased or diminished during his term of office."

            Article 11, section 8 of the constitution of the state provides:

            "The legislature shall fix the compensation by salaries of all county officers, and of constables in cities having a population of five thousand and upwards; except that public administrators, surveyors and coroners may or may not be salaried officers.  The salary of any county, city, town or municipal officers shall not be increased or diminished after his election, or during his term of office; nor shall the term of any such officer be extended beyond the period for which he is elected or appointed."

            If either of these measures were to be interpreted as affecting the salaries of officials already holding office, it would, unquestionably, be unconstitutional.  The language of both constitutional provisions is plain and unequivocal, and our Supreme Court has held in the case of Funke v. Pierce County, 48 Wash. 461, that they must be construed together.

            The court has further held in the case of State ex rel. Wyrick v. Ritzville, 16 Wn. (2d) 36 that the constitutional provision refers to the term and not the individual.  The effect of this holding would be to limit the existing salary to the appointed or elected to finish the term of such elected official holding office at the time the legislature made the change.

            Since the statute does not specifically provide that its provisions shall apply to the present occupants of the affected offices, it is our opinion that the Supreme Court would hold that the legislature intended the acts to apply to those elected in the future.  Our court has held in the case of Poolman v. Langdon, 94 Wash. 448, at 457, that where a statute is capable of two constructions,  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] one of which would render it invalid and the other valid, the construction which will uphold its validity "must" be adopted.

            With regard to the third constitutional provision here involved, Article 11, section 10:

            "Corporations for municipal purposes shall not be created by special laws; but the legislature, by general laws, shall provide for the incorporation, organization and classification in proportion to population, of cities and towns, which laws may be altered, amended or repealed.  Cities and towns heretofore organized, or incorporated may become organized under such general laws whenever a majority of the electors voting at a general election, shall so determine, and shall organize in conformity therewith; and cities or towns heretofore or hereafter organized, and all charters thereof framed or adopted by authority of this Constitution shall be subject to, and controlled by general laws.  Any city containing a population of twenty thousand inhabitants, or more, shall be permitted to frame a charter for its own government, consistent with and subject to the Constitution and laws of this state, and for such purpose the legislative authority of such city may cause an election to be had at which election there shall be chosen by the qualified electors of said city, fifteen freeholders thereof, who shall have been residents of said city for a period of at least two years preceding their election and qualified electors, whose duty it shall be to convene within ten days after their election, and prepare and propose a charter for such city.  Such proposed charter shall be submitted to the qualified electors of said city, and if a majority of such qualified electors voting thereon ratify the same, it shall become the charter of said city, and shall become the  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] organic law thereof, and supersede any existing charter including amendments thereto, and all special laws inconsistent with such charter.  Said proposed charter shall be published in two daily newspapers published in said city, for at least thirty days prior to the day of submitting the same to the electors for their approval, as above provided.  All elections in this section authorized shall only be had upon notice, which notice shall specify the object of calling such election, and shall be given for at least ten days before the day of election, in all election districts of said city.  Said elections may be general or special elections, and except as herein provided shall be governed by the law regulating and controlling general or special elections in said city.  Such charter may be amended by proposals therefor submitted by the legislative authority of such city to the electors thereof at any general election after notice of said submission published as above specified, and ratified by a majority of the qualified electors voting thereon.  In submitting any such charter, or amendment thereto, any alternate article or proposition may be presented for the choice of the voters, and may be voted on separately without prejudice to others."

            Our court has held in the case of Oakwood v. Tacoma Mausoleum Ass'n., 22 (2d) 692 at page 695 as follows:

            "Section 10 of Art. XI of the constitution provides that cities and all charters thereof framed or adopted by authority of the constitution shall be subject to and controlled by general laws.  We  [[Orig. Op. Page 5]] have decided that a general statute enacted by the legislature supersedes or modifies provisions of a city charter to the extent that they are in conflict.  Ewing v. Seattle, 55 Wash. 229, 104 Pac. 259; State ex rel. Webster v. Superior Court, 67 Wash. 37, 120 Pac. 861; L.R.A. 1915C, 287 Ann. Cas. 1913D, 78; Neils v. Seattle, 185 Wash. 269 53 P. (2d) 848; Dalton v. Clarke, 18 Wn. (2d) 322, 139 P. (2d) 291.

            "The first three of these cases cite many others pronouncing the same rule."

            In conclusion, it is our opinion that neither House Bill 380 nor Senate Bill 210 is unconstitutional and that, since both laws are general as to the class affected, the charters of the various cities, insofar as they are in conflict therewith, are superseded and modified.

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General