Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

AGO 1960 No. 137 -
Attorney General John J. O'Connell


A non-high [[nonhigh]]school district is not authorized to conduct a special levy election to obtain funds for participation with a high school district in construction of school facilities when said non-high [[nonhigh]]school district has already held two special levy elections to obtain funds for maintenance and operation.

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                                                                 August 23, 1960

Honorable John J. Lally
Prosecuting Attorney
Spokane County
Spokane, Washington                                                                                                  Cite as:  AGO 59-60 No. 137

Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged you requested an opinion of this office on a question which we paraphrase as follows:

            Is a non-high [[nonhigh]]school district authorized to conduct a special levy election to obtain funds for participation with a high school district in construction of school facilities when said non-high [[nonhigh]]district has already held two special levy elections to obtain funds for maintenance and operation?

            We answer your question in the negative.


            You have advised us of the following facts giving rise to your request:  The Nine Mile Falls School District conducted a special levy election in March of this year to obtain maintenance and operation funds.  This election failed in that there was an insufficient voter turn-out [[turnout]].  The district then held another election for the same purpose in May, which election carried.  Now the district has been included in the plan for participation  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] by various non-high [[nonhigh]]districts in the construction of a new high school in School District No. 81.  The board determined to raise the necessary funds by special levy since the amount to be raised is hardly sufficient to make a bond election feasible.

            In your letter you state that in your opinion the provisions of RCW 84.52.052 and the Seventeenth Amendment to the Washington State Constitution prevent the district from conducting another special election at this time.  With this conclusion we must agree.

            At the outset it must be borne in mind that the Seventeenth Amendment to the State Constitution, approved November, 1944, established a forty-mill cumulative limitation on tax levy assessments.  It provides in pertinent part that the "forty-mill limitation" may be exceeded only:

            "(a) By any taxing district when specifically authorized so to do by a majority of at least three fifths of the electors thereof voting on the proposition to levy such additional tax submitted not more than twelve months prior to the date on which the proposed levy is to be made and not oftener than twice in such twelve month period, either at a special election or at the regular election of such taxing district, at which election the 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 special excess levy elections by taxing districts is found in section 1, chapter 290, Laws of 1959 (RCW 84.52.052).  See AGO 59-60 No. 120 [[to Prosecuting Attorney, Kitsap County on May 31, 1960]].  In pertinent part it reads as follows:

            ". . . Any . . . school district, . . . may levy taxes at a rate in excess of the rate specified in RCW 84.52.050 through 84.52.056, when authorized so to do by the electors of such . . . school district, . . . by a three fifths majority of those voting on the proposition at a special election, to be held in the year in which the levy is made, and not oftener than twice in such year. . ."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            It is an oft-quoted rule of statutory construction that, in arriving at the intent of the legislature, the first resort of the courts is to the context and subject matter of the legislation, because the intention of the lawmakers is to be deduced, if possible, from the words used.  Hatzenbuhler  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] v. Harrison, 49 Wn. (2d) 691, 306 P. (2d) 745 (1957); Guinness v. State, 40 Wn. (2d) 677, 246 P. (2d) 433 (1952).  Furthermore, a statute must be construed whenever possible so that no clause, sentence or word shall be held to be superfluous, void or insignificant.  Public Hospital District No. 2 of Okanogan County v. Taxpayers, 44 Wn. (2d) 623, 269 P. (2d) 594.

            We have not had any occasion recently to interpret section 1, chapter 290, Laws of 1959,supra, in respect to the question you have submitted.  However, this office, in an opinion to the Honorable Patrick M. Steele, Prosecuting Attorney, Pierce County, dated June 2, 1949 [[Opinion No. 49-51-54]], did construe an earlier law governing such elections.  The only substantial change made in the law is that, under the latest amendment, a special excess levy election may not be held "oftener than twice" in the year in which the levy is made; whereas, under the 1945 law discussed in the foregoing opinion, such election could only be held once in such year.  We concluded therein:

            "It is our opinion, and we advise that the statutory injunction against the holding of a special levy election oftener than once a year [now twice a year] refers to the year between the levy dates in October of successive years(Sims v. Bremerton, supra).  [Sims v. Bremerton, 190 Wash. 62, 46 P. (2d) 863.]  The first class school district which conducted such an election in November, 1948, may not conduct another such election until a date after the second Monday in October, 1949.  (Section 78, chapter 130, Laws of 1925, Ex. Sess; Rem. Rev. Stat. 11239)."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            Accordingly, it is our opinion that, under the portion of the Seventeenth Amendment quoted above, and section 1, chapter 290, Laws of 1959, supra, a proposition to levy a tax in excess of the "forty mill limitation" may not be submitted to the electors of a school district "oftener than twice" in the year in which the levy is made.  Hence, since the school district in question has already twice submitted to the electors of the district, at two special elections, a proposition to authorize excess levies, another election for such purpose may not be held at this time.

            We trust the foregoing will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General