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tural property. Thus, to illustrate, let us suppose a piece of occupied real estate worth $10,000 to be presented for taxation in the country, and in the city respectively. In the country the assessment, under the proposed system would be as follows: Farm and farm buildings, valued at................. $10,000 00 Value of buildings and lot, $2,000.* Rental of buildings, at ten per cent, $200. Three times rental as equivalent of personal property... 600 00
Total valuation for assessment......................
On the other hand, in the city, the assessment would be as follows: City store and lot, valued at....................... $10,000 00 Value of building and lot, $10,000. Rental of building, at ten per cent, $1,000. Three times rental as equivalent of personal property.. 3,000 00
Total valuation for assessment.
Under the new system, therefore, the city store and lot would be regarded as a measure of $2,400 more of personal property, expenditure, or consumption, than the country farm or property of the same value, a measure which the commissioners hold, will prove to be entirely correct and equitable, both in theory and practice. But if the tax-payer in the country and the tax-payer in the city, hold other personal property apart from their lands and buildings, as stocks in banks, or other moneyed corporations, they will both be put on exactly the same footing as regards taxation or expenditure, and that too, without the possibility of either assessing the other by fraud or evasions.
ECONOMY OF THE PROPOSED SYSTEM. To devise a more economical method of assessing and collecting taxes, is equivalent to the invention of a labor-saving machine; and the commissioners claim, as one of the special merits of their proposed system, that it will prove, by its simplicity and freedom from detail, more economical than any other. Every man under the new system might know before the day of assessment exactly what his assessment and consequent taxation was certain to be; and few people, therefore, would in any contingency be subject to the expense and annoyance of examining the assessment rolls, or of carrying on vexatious controversies with the assessors. No discretion, moreover, being permitted to the assessors, it will not be possible to use the machinery of taxation in the slightest degree as the instrument for personal favor or malice, or for promoting the interests of any political organization. And it is well worth the consideration of the people of New York, especially at the present time, whether there can be permanent reform instituted in respect to municipal government, so long as the prominent and most influential citizens of any municipality are under the influence of any arbitrary and irresponsible officials.
*A fair average valuation for farm property in the country,
An examination of the code submitted will show, that it is proposed that the tax on building occupancy shall be collected from the real estate; and it is permitted to the owner to collect of the tenant, for the reason that the larger proportion, probably three-fourths of the build ings of the State are occupied by their owners, and because the owners can more economically collect the tax than any official. In New York, at present, the tax on real estate, for sake of economy, is very often collected from the tenant; and the law permits the tenant to recover from the landlord; and for a similar reason it is now proposed that the building occupancy tax shall be collected from the land and recovered from the tenant by the landlord. Such a plan involves both reciprocity and economy, and is of mutual advantage to both landlords and tenants; and still the tenants are at liberty to make contracts that the landlords shall pay the building occupancy as well as any other taxes.
THE PROPOSED SYSTEM NOT AN EXCLUSIVE Tax on REAL ESTATE.
The question may be asked, as it was on the presentation of the former report of the commissioners, “ Why not still further simplify the system, and impose all the taxes on real estate ?” and to it the commissioners would return this answer, that an additional assessment upon the occupiers of buildings, equal to three times the rent of the buildings, seems to them to be most equitable, as a measure of the amount of the occupier's personal property, for they hold that no person can occupy buildings without possessing personal property to an amount equal to the proposed assessment under this just and uniform rule.* Then again, the proposed system taxes a man according to the sign which he puts out of his personal property, or the amount of his annual expenses or consumption. Adam Smith says: “ In general there is not perhaps any article of expense or consumption by which the liberality or meanness of a man's whole expense can be better judged of, than by his house rent.” “The luxuries and vanities of life occasion the principal expense of the rich ; and a magnificent house, embellishes and sets off to the best advantage, the other luxuries and vanities they possess. A tax upon house rents, therefore, would fall heaviest upon the rich, and in this sort of inequality there would not, perhaps, be anything very unreasonable."* A valuation of real estate, furthermore, is not as positive a sign, or evidence of expense, consumption, or of protection under the laws, as the rental value of buildings occupied. Real estate often produces no revenue; is in some localities remotely protected, or not protected at all, and as cultivated land is rather a measure of production, than of expenses or consumption. The indicia adopted by the commissioners, however, as the measure of personal property, of protection, and of expense and consumption, are the most uniform and equal means of assessment and measurement that the best authors on taxation have ever recommended.
* The commissioners assert unqualifiedly, and challenge refutation of their assertion, that no person can pay rent in any amount, or own and occupy any building, who does not have necessarily three times the value of such rent or rental value in personal property. Civilized life, in fact, cannot be carried on with any less amount of such property. If the rent is $100 per annum three times that, or $300, will not cover the value of the chairs, the tables, the bed, the stove, the clothing, the cooking and eating utensils, the tools and other appurtenances by which life is maintained, and the rent in question earned. If the rent is $40,000 per annum, there must be about $120,000 of personal property productively employed by the occupier, or the rent could not be paid, except at the expense of capital. The question was indeed put to one of the commissioners, by one of the leading merchants and capitalists of New York, “ Would you tax a merchant who rents a store for $40,000 per annum, on $120,000 personal property ?" and the question was answered by asking another in return, “Would you as a real estate owner, renta store to an individnal for $10,000 per annum, unless you felt satisfied that the lessee had in his possession or control, productive capital equal to or in excess of $120,000 ?""
Let us contrast the indicia recommended with the indicia adopted in the present law. Thus the index which now determines whether a person is subject to personal tax or not in a given locality is the fact of domicil there; but such an arbitrary rule of taxation disregards'all questions of the amount of protection in the locality, the amount of property there, or the amount of expense or consumption of the tax-payer in the town, city or State.t It is a
* Discussing the incidence of local taxation upon house rents, Mr. John Stuart Mill, in his Princi. ples of Political Economy, observes:
“ No part of a person's expenditure is a better criterion of his means, or bears on the whole more nearly the same proportion to them. A house tax is a nearer approach to a fair income tax, than a
nent on income can easily be; having the great advantage, that it makes spontaneously all the allowances which it is so difficult to make, and so impracticable to make exactly, in assessing an income tax; for, if what a person pays in house rent is a test of anything, it is a test not of what he possesses, but of what he thinks he can afford to spend.”
+ In France, the "taille," an inquisitorial, personal tax on profits, a species of income tax, was only levied upon villains, or upon those occupying lands under a base tenure. Adam Smith says: “This tax (the taille) is supposed to dishonor whoever is subject to it, and to degrade him below not only the rank of a gentleman, but that of a burgher, and whoever rents the lands of another becomes sub ject to it. No gentleman, nor even any burgher who has stock, will submit to this degradation." It is a curious chapter in the history of serfdom and slavery to see that a tax intended for an enslave. or degraded class, and in its arbitrary character only fitted for such a class, should long survive the
more arbitrary rule than the income tax of England, imposed in 1991, which provided that double rates should be paid by Catholics. Under that rule the Protestants paid half rates, but under our law those who do not live in the locality where the tax is imposed upon personal property pay nothing. A more arbitrary or unreasonable index, therefore, than the existing laws of New York now adopt, cannot be conceived. A residence is made a crime, coupled with a penalty.
Now, whatever other objections may be raised against the plan of the commissioners for valuing and assessing personal property, it would seem that all must admit that it is plain, economical, certain and uniform, and that it admits of the most complete investigation and publicity. Every block of buildings would be an assessment roll, and“ he who runs may read.” Returns, schedules and oaths may be false, but buildings never lie, and are a perpetual sermon of truth.
COMPARATIVE VALUATION OF THE AGGREGATE PROPERTY OF THE
STATE UNDER THE OLD AND NEW SYSTEMS. We come next to the consideration of the manner in which the valuation of property, and the rate and apportionment of taxes, will be affected under the proposed system, as compared with the conditions of the existing system. And in respect to this question it may be said : :
First. That as the new system does not propose to change the present method of directly assessing real estate, except to make the assessment of the same equitable and uniform, the revenue from this source cannot be impaired. If the valuation is uniformly increased, the rate will be uniformly decreased; and, as a further result of uniform valuation, it will follow that every man who pays on an approximately honest valuation, will have his taxes diminished; while every man who now pays on a dishonest valuation, will not be longer allowed to arbitrarily assess his neighbor. But herein the commissioners are obliged to confess is to be found the real obstacle in the institution that gave rise to it, and that after our entire population has become free, that we should still wear the badges of former slavery, and not appreciate the degradation which they indicated. A fugitive slave or serf, finding refuge in a burgh for one year, became a free man, and when in full possession of his rights could not be arbitrarily taxed in England or France. But under the system of taxation generally adopted in the United States, the people do not now enjoy the rights formerly accorded to a fugitive slave or a freedman. Adam Smith said that at the time he wrote, the capitation taxes in 'France were assessed upon the highest orders of people, according to their rank, and upon the “ lower orders of the people, according to what is supposed to be their fortúne, by an assessment which varies from year to year.” “The inferior ranks of people must in that country suffer patiently the usage which their superiors think proper to give them.” In France the revolution of 1789 removed all slavery or serfdom and its natural adjunct arbitrary taxation, but here we still cling to some of the old cast-off clothing of servitude, and seem to dislike to part with the old familiar claims.
way of tax reform ; for as the number of those who pay on an unfair valuation is greater than those who pay fairly, the probabilities are, that the former will consider it for their interest that no change shall be made, and being in the majority will control public opinion according to their own likeing. *
Second. It is certain that the average valuation of land and buildings-real estate_throughout the State, is not now in excess of fifty per centum of their fair marketable value; while the probabilities are, that the present assessed valuation is considerably less than this propor. tion. The true value of the real property of the State is, therefore, not less than twice its returned valuation, or $1,631,258,885 X 2= $3,262,517,770.
More than one-half of the population of the State is confined to cities and villages ; and much more than one-half of the real estate valuation of the State is found in these localities. But of this real estate of cities and villages, almost the whole would be subject to the “ building occupancy valuation;" and we can, therefore, safely assume that the property in the cities and villages of the State sub
ject to such valuation would amount to more than $1,600,000,000; and if we assume further, that the agricultural portions of the State, representing $1,600,000,000, additional valuation of real estate, will present twenty-five per cent of that valuation subject to building occupancy valuation, we shall have an aggregate of property subject to such valuation of full two thousand millions of dollars. A rental on this valuation, taken at ten per cent, would be $200,000,000; three times this, for the valuation of personal property, assumed as the equivalent for all other valuation of such property in the hands of individuals, would be $600,000,000. If we now add to this the personal property of the moneyed corporations of the State, less value of real estate owned by the same, estimated at $200,000,000,+ we have a total valuation representing personal property of $800,000,000; as compared with a present valuation of $445,000,000 of such property. And, as already intimated,
* Some years since a commission for revising the tax code of one of the States was appointed, and in due time presented the draft of many just amendments ; none of which, however, were adopted. On asking the chairman of the commission, a man of great honesty and plainness of speech, how to account for the result, he made answer as follows: “That when the subject of reform came up, all who thought that by being made to pay taxes fairly, would be thereby made to pay more, were present and opposed the enactment of the new laws; while all those who felt that their taxes would be decreased, through the adoption of an honest system, trusted in the power of truth to do them justice, and stayed away." The result was as might have been anticipated.
+ The capital, surplus and undivided profits of the national banks of the State in 1870, was $155,000,000; the capital of banks doing business under the laws of the State, Sept. 30th, 1870, $19,759,000; and the assets of New York State fire and marine insurance companies, in excess of all liabilities, except capital and script, Jan. 1, 1870, $61,958,998; total, $235,717,000.