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AGLO 1973 No. 46 -
Attorney General Slade Gorton


The legislature may not constitutionally grant special property tax levy relief to home owner-taxpayer as a class only, and not grant the same property tax treatment to other real estate owned by corporations, small businesses, etc.

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                                                                    April 9, 1973

Honorable Hubert F. Donohue
State Senator, 9th District
Legislative Building
Olympia, Washington 98504                                                                                                               Cite as:  AGLO 1973 No. 46

Dear Sir:

            This is written in response to your recent letter outlining a certain proposal currently being considered by an adhoc committee of the senate ways and means committee to provide some form of relief from special property taxes to certain home owners.  In connection with this proposal you have asked for our opinion on the following question:

            ". . .  Is it possible to write a bill constitutionally for special levy relief or grant of funds by the state prospectively to the home owner-taxpayer as a class only, and not grant equal relief or grants to other real estate owned by corporations, small business, etc.?"

            In our opinion this question must be answered in the negative.


            The governing constitutional provision, insofar as the classification of property for the purposes of property taxation is concerned, is Article VII, § 1 (Amendment 14) of our state Constitution which states, in material part, that:

            ". . .  All taxes shall be uniform upon the same class of property within the territorial limits of the authority levying the tax and shall be levied and collected for public purposes only. . . ."

            The critical language of this constitutional provision, in terms of your present question, appears two  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] sentences later where it is expressly stated that:

            ". . .  All real estate shall constitute one class: . . ."

            Under the proposal which you have outlined, real property owned and used for private residential purposes would be treated differently than that owned and used for commercial or industrial purposes, or the like.  This, in our opinion, would constitute a classification which would be prohibited by the foregoing language of the Constitution.

            In thus concluding we have not overlooked the fact that since the adoption of Amendment 14,supra, in 1930, two other constitutional amendments have been adopted which have carved out certain exceptions to the above stated general principle; namely, Amendment 47 (as approved by the voters in 1966) permitting tax special treatment for real property owned by certain retired citizens ‑ and Amendment 53 (adopted in 1968) authorizing the legislature to permit certain "open space" lands to be taxed on the basis of actual use rather than their potential "highest and best use."  Neither of these subsequent amendments, however, appears to provide any basis for the type of classification which is suggested by your question.  Thus, if the legislature is to be allowed to classify real property on the basis of residential versus industrial or commercial use, or the like, another constitutional amendment, specifically to this effect, will be required.  See, e.g., SJR No. 119, currently pending before the legislature.

            It is hoped that the foregoing will be of some assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Deputy Attorney General