Honorable Alan Thompson
State Representative, 18th District
Olympia, Washington 98501
Cite as: AGLO 1971 No. 65 (not official)
This is written in response to your recent letter requesting our opinion on the following question:
"May the Legislature grant title to property owned by the State of Washington, presently under the jurisdiction of the Department of Natural Resources, to a private entity; namely, the Castle Rock Fair Board?"
From your question, together with other information which you have submitted to us, it appears that the proposal in question would involve a gratuitous transfer of title to the subject property from the state to the private entity. In other words, the purchase does not constitute either a sale or a lease of the property, but rather, it contemplates a gift.
In view of the stated fact that the prospective grantee is not another governmental agency, but instead is a private entity, we must advise you that the proposal in question would violate Article VIII, § 5 of our state constitution, which reads as follows:
"The credit of the state shall not, in any manner be given or loaned to, or in aid of, any individual, association, company or corporation."
This constitutional provision, although somewhat differently worded than § 7 of Article VIII, relating to gifts or loans of municipal funds or property, has been construed by our supreme court to have essentially the same meaning. See, Morgan v. Department of Social Security, 14 Wn.2d 156, 127 P.2d 686 (1942); State v. Guaranty Trust Co., 20 Wn.2d 588, 148 P.2d 323 (1944); and Washington State Highway Commission v. Pacific Northwest Bell Telephone [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] Co., 59 Wn.2d 216, 367 P.2d 605 (1962). Cf., Yakima v. Huza, 67 Wn.2d 351, 407 P.2d 815 (1965).
With this similarity in import of these two sections of Article VIII in mind, we believe a case of particular significance in connection with the factual pattern giving rise to your question to be Johns v. Wadsworth, 80 Wash. 352, 141 Pac. 892 (1914). That case involved the constitutionality, under Article VIII, § 7, of a statute purporting to authorize boards of county commissioners to appropriate funds for the purpose of paying the expenses of "any agricultural fair association which has a corporate existence for the purpose and object of holding a fair and agricultural exhibition of stock, cereals and agricultural produce . . ."
In holding this statute to be unconstitutional, the court expressed itself as follows:
"The section of the constitution last quoted, in most express terms, prohibits a county from giving any money, property or credit to, or in aid of, any corporation, except for the necessary support of the poor and infirm. If the framers of the constitution had intended only to prohibit counties from giving money or loaning credit for other than corporate or public purposes, they would doubtless have said so in direct words. That agricultural fairs serve a good purpose is not questioned, but the constitution makes no distinction between purposes, but directly and unequivocally prohibits all gifts of money, property, or credit to, or in aid of, any corporation, subject to the exception noted. . . ."
See, also, State ex rel. O'Connell v. Port of Seattle, 65 Wn.2d 801, 399 P.2d 623 (1965), wherein this principle was expressly reaffirmed only six years ago.
Based upon the foregoing, we must answer your question, as set forth above, in the negative.
[[Orig. Op. Page 3]]
We trust that the foregoing will be of assistance to you.