Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

AGO 1955 No. 102 - Jun 15 1955
Attorney General Don Eastvold


The exemptions from taxation accorded watercraft by RCW 84.36.080 and RCW 84.36.090 are not affected by chapter 253, Laws of 1955.

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

                                                                   June 15, 1955

Honorable Herb Hanson
State Representative
39th District
Route 4
Snohomish, Washington                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 55-57 No. 102

Dear Sir:

            You have inquired whether chapter 253, Laws of 1955 (Sub. S.B. No. 158) is applicable to watercraft.

            We conclude that chapter 253, Laws of 1955, applies to taxable watercraft within school districts in the same manner as the act applies to other taxable property within such districts.


            Chapter 253 does not purport to impose any tax, nor does it operate to exempt any property from taxation.  Rather, it establishes a procedure whereby the assessed valuation of taxable property within the various school districts is to be equalized for purposes of ad valorem taxes levied by such districts.

            RCW 84.36.080 exempts

            "All ships and vessels * * * engaged in interstate commerce, foreign commerce, or commerce between ports of the state and the high seas * * *"

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            from all ad valorem taxes, except taxes levied for any state purpose.  Similarly, RCW 84.36.090 exempts all other vessels from 80 per cent of ad valorem taxes, but the exemption of this section also does not apply to taxes levied for any state purpose.

            The problem is whether the 1955 act operates to make these exemptions inapplicable to levies imposed by school districts, because section 2 of that act declares that every activity done with respect to public schools is a state function, performed for state purposes.

            This section was apparently enacted by the legislature to clearly show that the act was adopted in conformity with Article IX, sections 1 and 2 of the Constitution, and also to specifically clarify its intent in regard to public school education because of what appear to be conflicting opinions of the supreme court as to whether public school education is a state function; seeState ex rel. Tacoma School District v. Kelly, 176 Wash. 689, (1934) andNewman v. Schlarb, 184 Wash. 147 (1935)

            We have been advised that the total exemption of RCW 84.36.080 and the 80 per cent exemption of RCW 84.36.090 have been uniformly construed to apply to all taxes except taxes levied by the state.  This having been the long standing administrative construction of RCW 84.36.080 and 84.36.090, section 7 of the 1955 act is significant.  The enactment of this section indicates that the legislature must have been aware of the administrative construction of the watercraft exemption sections and desired that construction to continue under the 1955 act.  If this were not the case, section 7 would have no purpose or meaning.

            Chapter 253 does, however, apply in the determination of the assessed valuation of ships and vessels in the same way in which it applies in determining the assessed valuation of all other taxable property in each school district.  After the equalized value of the taxable property in each school district has been returned by the state board of equalization, 20 per cent of the local taxes should then be assessed against the equalized value of taxable ships and vessels within the respective districts.  Aside  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] from this, chapter 253 has no other effect with respect to watercraft.

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General