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sheep, or horses, grazing upon it, in New York, the tax officials of Massachusetts hold, that while the situs of the land is in New York, the situs of the stock equally tangible and visible (by virtue of the rule that personal property follows the owner), is in Massachusetts, and they tax the owner there for the same accordingly. If, lowever, a citzen resident of New York owns stock situated upon a farm in Massachusetts, the latter State ignoring her former rule of procedure, taxes this property by reason of its being within her territory and jurisdiction, and without any reference to the domicil of its owner. New York, rightfully adopting this latter rule, the citizen of Massachusetts, in the first instance, is inevitably subjected to double taxation on one and the same property; and the citizen of New York would be subjected to the same treatment, were it not that the courts of New York, some years since, decided that the power of the State of New York to tax visible, tangible property, was strictly limited to property actually within the territory of the State.
In other respects, however, the courts of New York have left the law of New York governing the situs of personal property the same as in Massachusetts, and therefore it is that most of the personal property of the cities of the State, enjoying the advantages of cleaned and lighted streets, the protection of the police, and of other acts of municipal administration, must be taxed, if taxed at all, where the owner resides; which may be, and frequently is, in an agricultural town, where there are few expenditures and a low rate of taxation. But when we come to mortgages held by foreigners, and negotiable bonds deposited with the comptroller of the State by foreign insurance companies, then New York, equally inconsistent with Massachusetts, reverses the ordinary rule of assessinent, namely, that “personal property follows the owner," and in its place taxes such mortgages and bonds, without the slightest regard to the domicil of their owners.
ceptible of concealment, and that debts, accounts, merchandise and ships, are nowhere mentioned. In the several enactments that followed in 1795, 1799, and 1834, the subjects of county levy were substantially the same, sheep and slaves being omitted in the last act, and officers added to the two last, and it was not until 1844, a period when the State, by large expenditures, had become embarrassed, that, by the act of 29th day of April, 1844, mortgages, money owing by solvent debtors, stocks, household furniture, public loans, watches, etc., were made taxable for county purposes. The attempted enforcement of this act was so injurious to the people, hy driving capital and industrial establishments from the State, and so evaded in returns, that by common consent the law remained on the statute book a dead letter until the consolidation of the city."
At that time (1854) the question was again discussed, and although the councils of the city had the power to impose the tax rate upon all the subjects of taxation, in the thirty-second section of the act of 1844 we find, by the first ordinances, they limited the levy to real estate, furniture, horses cattle and pleasure carriages, and so continued until 1864, when an act was passed empoweriug the city to levy taxes on all the subjects of taxation contained in that section of the act of 1814, a power which they possessed before, but had not exercised.”
"Since that time the authority of the city to levy a tax on mortgages, stocks of Pennsylvania corporations and occupations, has been repealed. In considering the enlargement of the subjects of levy in this city, the fact must not be lost sight of, that the State does not impose any tax on real estate for State purposes, but derives all its revenue from corporation stocks and loans, merchantile license, tavern licenses, collateral inheritance, etc., and it is estimated that of the gross receipts for 1870 ($6,336,603.00), more than two-fifths of the amount ($2,600,000) was derived from the property and business interests of the citizens of this city."
Again, can there be anything more absurdly illogical than the law of Massachusetts, which provides that personal property belonging to persons under guardianship shall be assessed to the guardian in the place where the ward resides, in case the ward is an inhabitant of the State ; but if the ward is a citizen and resident of another State, the property in trust shall be taxed to the guardian in the place where he is an inhabitant. If, therefore, it should so happen that the guardian resides in Massachusetts, the ward in Connecticut, and the property in trust be personal property in the city of New York, the same property would be certain to be taxed twice, and possibly three tinies.*
That such anomalies and absurdities should be retained in the local tax codes of the United States after every other nation has discarded them, is surprising; but that in this latter half of the nineteenth century, when the effort is being constantly made to lift society to a higher plane, by making the law of abstract right and justice para-, mount to all considerations of self-interest and expediency, it is infinitely more surprising that intelligent law makers and administrators should be found willing to defend such anomalies, and even advocate their continuance.
By the laws of New York, indebtedness in valuation for taxation is allowed to offset assets in the case of personal property, on the general ground that it is unjust to tax a man on property for which he is indebted, and practically that the enforcement of a contrary rule would seriously interfere with the vast commercial transactions of which New York city is the center; but no man can assign any good reason why indebtedness should be allowed to offset assets in the shape of cattle, merchandise, money or machinery, and not offset assets in the form of land and buildings, except that it would be doubtful whether the State under the latter rnle, could collect an adequate revenue. Massachusetts meets this difficulty by refusing to allow indebtedness to offset or diminish the valuation of any tangible property; but her citizens, when consulted privately, speak of the enforcement of the law as an absurdity and a failure. New York, on the other hand, as before intimated, allows indebtedness to offset one species of property; but in disregard of every principle of equity, refuses to make the applicasion of the rule to real estate.
* That the commissioners are not indulging in any mere fanciful hypothesis on the subject of double taxation under the laws of Massachusetts, they would state that assessments involving the conditions stated are now (January, 1872) pending and in dispute,—the ward in one instance residing in Boston, the trustees in Connecticut, while the property assessed to the ward (through the trustees, directly or on its income), is in great part bank stock and real estate in New York city.
From these and other illustrations, which might be multiplied to almost any extent, it seems clear that any claim which the advocates of the existing system may set up in its behalf, that it is uniform, theoretically equitable, and fails only through lack of efficient administration, has no foundation in truth; while experience shows that it is only necessary to carry out the principles of the present system of local assessment to their logical conclusions to demonstrate and render palpable their inequalities, fallacies and absurdities.
So much, then, in answer to the first question, “is an arbitrary, inquisitorial and illogical system of taxation in itself desirable ?”
SECOND QUESTION. In answer to the second question, “is such a system anywhere effective, or can such a system be made 80 ?” the commissioners would return an unqualified negative, and in support of their position submit the following evidence:
1st. In Massachusetts, where the inquisitorial, arbitrary system is carried out as fully as it ever can be in a country having a constitutional form of government, and any decent respect for personal freedom and equal rights, there is no intelligent person who will claim for it any more than a partial success. Here double, triple, and even greater taxation of personal property is not uncommon, and there has been one case brought to the attention of the commissioners where a man was taxed seven times in one and the same year for the same capital. The laws of the State also require that real estate, merchandise, stock in trade, and corporate stocks, shall all be assessed without any deduction of debts, and that all residents of the State shall be taxed for personal property situated in other and foreign States and territories, no matter whether such personal property consists of visible, tangible objects, like cattle grazing on the plains of Illinois or Texas, stocks of goods, or machinery in California, ships registered in the port of New York, bullion in the Bank of England, or intangible, invisible rights to property, like evidences of indebtedness and negotiable instruments. In some towns in Massachusetts, moreover, they have a way of publishing and distributing a list of each man's personal property that can be got hold of, even down to the family cow and pig, the half dozen hens, and the sleigh bells and horse blankets, and yet notwithstanding this repeated taxation, this minute inquisition, this reaching out all over the world to find property, and notwithstanding the investment of her officials with almost unlimited power, the amount of personal property assessed in the whole State of Massachusetts to individuals has never been but little more than half the valuation of the reality, and in some of her prosperous towns and cities is not equal to one-third, while there can be but little doubt that if the law was fully executed in respect to so much only of personal property as is exclusively within the territory of the State, that the amount claimed would fully equal, and probably far exceed, the aggregate value of all the real property returned for assessment.
As a further illustration that the system of Massachusetts is a failure, even at the point — Boston — where it is acknowledged to be carried out with the greatest degree of effectiveness, it is only necessary to examine the records of the Boston Stock Exchange and notice the prices which prevail for securities bearing a comparatively low rate of interest. Thus in May, 1871, Boston six per cent currency bonds sold for 1014; Massachusetts, Maine, Connecticut and New York 6s, 100 to 106; Reading R. R. 6s, 108; Cambridge City do., 991. Now will any sane man believe, that citizens of Boston, or Massachusetts, or other New England States, where the same system of taxation prevails, buy these securities at the prices quoted, and pay a rate of taxation of from one and a half to two per cent on their market value — thus reducing their annual interest to four and a half or four per cent - when bonds of the United States paying five per cent interest and free from all taxation, or first mortgage railroad bonds paying seven or eight per cent interest could be bought for about the same money?
The most intelligent of the Massachusetts tax officials frankly admit that they have no expectation of any result under their system much better than what is already attained to; and if this is so, we have then an admission, or rather demonstration, that this same system, which is advocated mainly on the ground that it works uniformly and equally, can have no legitimate claim to either characteristic; inasmuch as to taxone man for one species of property, because through his honesty, ignorance, or inability to escape, he can be laid hold of, and fail to tax another man for precisely the same description of property, because he is cunning and unscrupulous, and so cannot be laid hold of, is not taxation, but arbitrary confiscation. Nay more, this same system punishes a man for being honest or ignorant, by making him pay not only his legitimate proportion of taxes, but also an additional amount to make up for the deficiency occasioned by those who by reasori of cunning and dishonesty do not pay.
PRINCIPLE OF BRIGANDAGE APPLIED TO TAXATION. It should also not escape attention, that the practice of taxing property outside of the territory and jurisdiction of a State, and which, therefore, the laws of the State can in no ways protect, merely because the owner is a citizen or resident of the State, rests upon identically the same principle as that which constitutes the basis of brigandage, namely, that the control of the person of the victim, confers the right to a revenue consisting of a percentage of the value of all the victim's property of every description and wherever situated. (For further discussion of this point, see supplement.)
But if it be said, as it actually is, that in this species of levying, it is not the property outside of the State that is actually taxed, but that the property is simply taken as the measure of the ability of the owner to pay, who, being a resident within the State, is unquestionahly subject to its jurisdiction and authority ; the answer is, that if this is the intent, the laws nowhere express it, for they particularly specify property, and not persons; and that if it were otherwise, the change would simply be one of form, and not of substance. Or to put the matter even more practicably, does any one suppose that any State could get round the exemption of United States bonds from taxation, by providing that the amount of such property should be taken as the measure for the assessment of a poll or personal tax on any individual holding such property?
When, therefore, a State in the exercise of its authority, virtually proclaims that it is bound to consult its own interest irrespective of justice, and that the possession of might confers right, it is not to be wondered if a portion of its citizens turn round, and by their frauds, evasions and concealments, practically answer ;
“The villainy you teach me, I will execute; and it shall go hard, but I will better the instructions."
And that they have made this answer, the condition of local taxation in nearly every State in the Union, the open disregard of oaths, and the contempt in which the law everywhere has fallen, are sufficient witnesses.
THE PRESENT TAX SYSTEM OF NEW YORK INCAPABLE OF EXECUTION.
2d. The present law of New York, requires the assessors charged with its execution, “to ascertain" (" to make certain "--Webster),