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assists in maintaining the value of real property. We cannot afford to try the experiment of imposing a tax on our manufacturing interests."
DIFFICULTIES IN THE WAY OF ESTIMATING VISIBLE PERSONAL
PROPERTY. But irrespective of the influence of the legislation of other States, the commissioners assert, that no means can be devised of taking an inventory, or estimate of even tangible personal property with any degree of accuracy, which will not entail an expense about equal to the amount collected at the present rate of taxation; for the commissioners assume, if the existing laws relative to taxation are to be allowed to remain on the statute books, that sooner or later, the attempt must be made to enforce them. If, therefore, we are to have equality and efficiency, an official inspector must be upon every farm the entire year to ascertain its annual products, or the average of personal property on the farm; and every house, store, shop, or piece of occupied property, must be placed continually under the espionage of an expert. Besides, it cannot certainly be claimed to be equal and
just taxation, to admit the goods of all citizens of other States free from taxation, to be sold at wholesale and retail in competition with similar property of citizens of New York, which is subject to heavy taxation. At present, there are whole blocks of stores in New York city, occupied by agents of New England, New Jersey and Pennsylvania manufacturers, who consign and sell their goods free from taxation, while the citizen of New York occupying analogous stores, pays taxes (theoretically at least), on his entire stock or capital. New York has a right to tax these goods, for the Supreme Court of the United States has recently made a decision, that importations from sister States may be taxed at the same rate as the same articles are taxed in the State into which the importations are made, but to do this in such a way as to insure equality of taxation in every locality, would require not only a system of customs along the State borders, but a system of octroi* about every city and town. But what, under such a system, would become of the present commercial and financial supremacy of the State ?
*The “ octroi” system of taxation in Europe, is one by which taxes are levied in towns and large villages, on meat, vegetables, wine and other articles of living, brought into them for the use of the inhabitants, and has for a long time in continental Europe been a favorite method of raising local revenue. In Prussia, during the past year, the government, in deference to an almost universal public sentiment has introduced a hill in parliament, providing for the entire abolition of the "octroi ;” but it is to be noted, that in place of substituting for it a tax on stocks on hand, evidences of debt, money capital and the like items of personal property, the government proposes to make it compulsory on all towns to establish a species of income tax-in which taxes are not levied upon the lowest rate of income. In France, on the other hand, the octroi is yet in full operation.
SPECIAL TAXES ON NON-RESIDENT TRADERS UNCONSTITUTIONAL.
The supreme court of the United States, in the case of Ward v. The State of Maryland, December, 1871, has decided, that special taxes imposed by States on non-resident traders, are unconstitutional; and that non-resident merchants, agents, commercial travelers and the like, may “sell, or offer, or expose for sale” any goods in any State, “without being subject to any higher tax or excise than that exacted by law of permanent residents.” But as the practice of taxing merchants and dealers for the mere privilege of doing business, or making the procurement of a license the preliminary condition of doing business, is generally repugnant to popular sentiment, and has as yet been put in practice in only a few localities, the decision above referred to, is equivalent to allowing non-residents to do business on a basis of advantage not allowed to merchants and dealers who are resident, and as such are taxed upon their stocks of goods offered for sale, and upon all the capital and machinery employed in the production of such stocks. The opportunity which is offered in large border cities, like New York, for the transaction of an immense business by sample by citizens of other States, constitutes, therefore, another strong argument in support of the position of the commissioners, that the local taxation of New York should be so adjusted that there should not be a discriminating tax against resident merchant citizens and manufacturers and in favor of non-residents.
THE PROPOSED NEW SYSTEM OF TAXATION. Having thus demonstrated the absurdity of the theory of the system of local taxation at present adopted by New York, the inequality and irregularity of its administration, and the injury which is certain to accrue to the material interests of the State from its longer continuance, the commissioners come next to the consideration of the third question:
66 Can any system of local taxation be devised, which will prove effectual for revenue, be free from arbitrary and inquisitorial methods of administration, and at the same time be made to work with strict justice and uniformity ?" .
And, in answer to this question, the commissioners, as the result of a most careful investigation of the whole subject, and after having endeavored to thoroughly acquaint themselves with the experience of other States or communities, present herewith a code of a new system of local taxation; in respect to which they feel entire confidence that it will prove in every way remedial of the most serious of the evils experienced under the present system, allow of simple, effective and economical administration; and in opposition to which no objection has as yet been presented which cannot be shown to have its origin either in a misconception of the views of the commissioners, or in a prejudice in favor of old ways and observances, simply because they are old and customary, and not because they have been founded on either justice or expediency.
The main features of the proposed new system may be stated as follows:
First. Taxation of real estate, lands and buildings, at a full and fair market valuation. .
The existing laws require this; but it is perfectly well understood that at present so much of this law as relates to valuation is a perfectly dead letter, and that in place of “full and just valuation,” the valuation, as before shown, runs down as low, in some instances, as fifteen or twenty per cent; and on the average for the whole State is not probably in excess of forty per cent; and furthermore, that every assessor in the State in annually certifying under oath that he has complied with the law, annually swears to that which he knows is untrue, and can only exculpate himself of moral as well as technical perjury, by the plea that his official acts deceive no one, and are understood to be a mere form, without meaning or significance.
Now, it would seem clear, that the first step in the way of reform of the existing tax system, is to provide for the execution of this law; and the commissioners in advance charge, that no legislator, or citizen can oppose or be indifferent to the adoption of measures calculated to bring about such a result without becoming thereby a party to fraud and a promoter of social immorality. It is also important to state, that the recent experience of the cities of Boston, Philadelphia and Chicago shows, that there is no practical difficulty, as is often supposed, in valuing and assessing real estate at its true or approximative cash value, inasmuch as this method has been successfully adopted in each of the above named cities as a substitute for the former “guess-work” plan of rating such property.
And although it is an almost self-evident proposition, it may, nevertheless, be not out of place to recall to mind, that it is the annount of expenditure and not the valuation that governs and controls the amount of taxation; and that making the valuation of one and the same description of property invariably conform to one and the same standard, cannot increase the taxes of any citizen, unless he is no v unjustly taking advantage of the defects of the existing law to inequitably pay less than his fair proportion at the expense of some other citizen.
They also recommend that the administration of the whole tax system of the State be placed under the charge of some supervising officer, intrusted with full powers, whose business would be to see that the laws, whatever they may be, are lived up to and enforced; and that he shall be especially required to prosecute, or cause to be prosecuted, every assessor of the State who deliberately makes oath that he has complied with the provisions of the law, when the fact can be made evident that he has not done so.
Second. To taxc moneyed corporations of the State in conformity with existing laws.
Third. A little reflection and an examination of the statistics of taxation will show, that under the two heads above specified are included almost all the property of the State now returned for assessment; and that what is not thus included is of a character very difficult, if not impossible, to fairly value and assess; and that the continued attempt, as now, to directly ascertain its value and assess it, will be productive of very little revenue, and for reasons above presented must prove disastrous to the future development and prosperity of the State. The commissioners, therefore, propose, as a substitute for all such defective taxation, and as an equivalent for the present tax on individuals for personal property, to tax the occupier, be he owner or tenant, of any and every building used as a dwelling, or for any other purpose, on a valuation of three times the rental or rental valuc of the premises occupied ; but not including under such assessment, any land except such as the building stands on, or is essential for access thereto.
All property not embraced under one of these provisions, as above stated, to be exempt from taxation.
RELATION OF REAL ESTATE TO PERSONAL PROPERTY. The general principles, irrespective of considerations of expediency, on which the commissioners base the essential feature of their system, may be briefly presented as follows:
The market value of real estate is always proportional to, and dependent on, the amount of personal property, or rather productive capital, placed upon it, or in its immediate vicinity. Land in itself has originally no value, as it cost nothing to any man to produce it. If there is no personal property or productive capital connected with it, or reflected on it, it will not sell in the market, or at only a nominal value. If by chance any buildings should be connected with such land they will possess no rental value. Only as personal property, or productive capital is brought in connection with real estate does its value become appreciable and augment.
Applying, practically, to New York the proposed system for taxing personal property through buildings or rentals as its representative, we should find that the aggregate of taxation would be the lowest in the most sparsely settled agricultural districts of the State. Property here is mainly in land, and the value of the buildings is generally much less than the value of this land with which they are connected. As we leave the sparsely settled agricultural districts, and rise through the more densely populated portions of the State from the villages to the towns, from the towns to the cities, and from the cities to the great metropolis of the continent, we shall find that the value of land, of buildings, and the aggregate of taxable valuation will increase, as the amount and accumulation of personal property increases, until land and buildings attain their greatest market and tax valuation in Wall street, Broadway and Fifth avenue, where the accumulation of personal property is the greatest. It is also to be observed, that starting at the bottom of the scale, with the value of land greatly in excess of the value of the buildings connected with the land, that this difference, as we progress upward through the more densely populated districts, gradually diminishes, until, as is the case very frequently in the cities, the value of the building greatly exceeds the value of the land on which it is situated.
And yet, while under the proposed system, the agricultural districts would, as now, pay the smallest proportion of the aggregate taxes, and the villages and cities as now also the largest, there would be no injustice, but on the contrary, one uniform, equitable rule of valuation and assessment.
THE PROPOSED SYSTEM A CORRECT STANDARD OF MEASUREMENT OF
PERSONAL PROPERTY IN DIFFERENT LOCATIONS. A little reflection will also satisfy, that the proposed system of taxing“ building occupancy,” constitutes in itself a correct standard of measurement of personal property, or of expenditure and consumption, both for the city and country, and establishes also just and equitable relations in respect to taxation between city and agricul