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is found in twenty-six constitutions.1
The general property tax has long been the most important element of the tax systems of the states and with one or two exceptions,2 vestiges of it linger, at least for local taxation, in all of them. Each one, however, has its little eccentricities and an absolutely clear picture cannot be obtained except through an individual study of every state.
The most fundamental weakness of the general property tax lies in its attempt to tax in the same way at the same rate both tangible and intangible property. The growth of banks and other corporations and the consequent enormous expansion of intangibles, which the courts have held to constitute property,3 has induced constitution-makers to seek special methods of obtaining revenue from the owners thereof. Some have sought to compel them, as it were by brute force, through added strictures and penalties, to list their invisible property. Others, however, less naively trustful in the potency of enacted laws, but somewhat more effectually, have sought the same end by means of classifying property for taxation and taxing different classes in different modes and at different rates. The glaring unfairness of attempting to tax equally two notes, both of equal
1Ala., 211, 214, 215 (Mayor v. Stonewall Ins. Co., 53 Ala., 570; M. & G. R. Co. v. Peebles, 47 Ala., 317); Ark., XVI, 5 (Pike v. State, 5 Ark., 204); Cal. XIII, 1 (People v. Whyler, 41 Cal., 351; Hyatt v. Allen, 54 Cal., 353); Fla., IX, 1 (Hayes v. Walker, 54 Fla., 163); Ill., IX, 1 (Republic Life Insurance Co. v. Pollak, 75 Ill., 292; People v. Church, 232 Ill., 158); Ind.. X, 1 (State v. Indianapolis, 69 Ind., 375; Board v. State, 155 Ind., 604); Kan., XI, 1 (Kaiser v. the State, 80 Kan., 364); La., 225 (Swords v. Baillio, 105 La., 332); Me., IX, 8; Amend. 1914 (In re Opinion of Justices, 97 Me., 595); Miss., 112 (Adams v. Kuykendall, 83 Miss., 571); Mo., X, 4 (Kansas City v. Whipple, 136 Mo., 475); Mont., XII, 1, 16 (Daly Bank v. Board, 33 Mont., 105); Neb., XI, 1 (Pleuber v. State, 11 Neb., 547; State v. Poynter, 59 Neb., 417: High School District v. Lancaster Co., 60 Neb., 147; State v. Osburn, 60 Neb., 415); Nev., X, 1 (Ex Parte Robinson, 12 Nev., 263, 268, 269); N. H., II, 5 (Wyatt v. Board, 74 N. H., 552); N. C., V, 3 (State v. Wheeler. 141 N. C., 773); 0., XII, 2 (Cincinnati Gas Light Company v. State, 18 O. St., 237); Ore., IX, 1 (Wallace v. Board, 47 Ore., 584; Yamhill Co. v. Foster, 53 Ore., 124); S. C., X, 1; XI, 6 (State v. Tucker, 56 S. C., 516; Laurens v. Anderson, 75 S. C., 62); S. D., XI, 2 (24 S. D., 433); Tenn., II, 28 (Ry. Co. v. Wilson Co., 89 Tenn., 597); Tex., VIII, 1 (Roundtree v. City of Galveston, 42 Tex., 612; Lively v. Ry. Co., 102 Tex., 545; Insurance Co. v. State, 42 Tex., 639); Utah, XIII, 2 (Parker v. Quinn, 23 Utah, 332); Wash., VII, 1 (State v. Parmenter, 50 Wash., 164); W. Va., X, 1 (C. & S. Bridge Co. v. County Court, 41 W. Va., 658); Wyo., XV, 11 (Kelley v. Rhodes, 7 Wyo., 237, 253). Cases in point do not seem to exist in every state. The extent of the general property tax varies. Some states require all property not specifically exempt from taxation to be taxed uniformly. Others provide that property taxes must be uniform, which effectually prevents classification and so results in a tax upon pretty much all property. A few states allow certain intangible property to be taxed at a different rate from property in general.
Property is of course a legal concept merely and is not dependent upon intrinsic value. Intangibles have, obviously, no intrinsic value; they are merely evidences of the value of something else and of legally-enforceable claims thereto.
face value but bearing two and eight per cent. interest is obvious; it is, however, only an extreme instance from among many analogous ones in general property taxation. In practice, under the general property tax, intangible personalty is for the most part concealed from assessing authorities. This fact and the lack of adequate means of assessing many other forms of personal property cause the general property tax in reality to become largely a tax upon real estate.
About a third of the constitutions, therefore, have clauses of similar purport to the Kentucky amendment of 1915,
Taxes shall be levied and collected for public purposes only and shall be uniform upon all property of the same class subject to taxation within the territorial limits of the authority levying the tax; and all taxes shall be levied and collected by general laws.
The General Assembly shall have power to divide property into classes and to determine what class or classes of property shall be subject to local taxation."
The difficulties inherent in ascertaining even the tangible property of great corporations like interstate railroads has led not only to special machinery for assessing corporations but to the abandonment in some states of the property tax so far as they are concerned and the substitution of a system of taxation based upon their receipts in business. It is cutsomary in such states to reserve corporation taxes for state purposes, and, indeed, a usual accompaniment of the movement against the general property tax and in favor of taxing different objects at different rates is the reservation of certain kinds of property for state taxation and others for local taxation. The separation of the sources of state and local revenue is one of the most strongly
In the case of stocks that are listed on the market statutes customarily provide that their taxable value is their market value.
In addition to those which specifically authorize classification there are some states in which the right to do so is not denied and has been assumed. The Civic Federation of Chicago (Pamphlet, Apace with Progress, p. 19) gives the following list of states which have permitted or to some extent adopted classification : Ariz., Colo., Conn., Del., Ga., Ia., Ky., Md., Mass., Mich., Minn., N. M., N. Y., N. D., Okla., Pa., R. I., Vt., Va., Wis. To this list should be added Ida. and N. J. In 1916 Ill. and S. D. will vote on classification.
"The amendment provides also that "Any law passed or enacted by the General Assembly pursuant to the provisions of or under this amendment or amended section of the Constitution, classifying property and providing a lower rate of taxation on personal property, tangible or intangible, than that upon real estate, shall be subject to the referendum power of the people, which is hereby declared to exist to apply only to this section, or amended section."
'See Cal., XIII, 14 (a); Minn., IV, 32a.
219. Classification of Property.
220. Mines and Forests.
advocated changes that are being currently urged for state tax systems. Frequently the reliance of the state government on corporation, inheritance and, perhaps licence and income taxes, leaves the general property tax entirely to the localities. The danger that careless and irresponsible legislatures might exempt corporations from taxation by charter, and that the exemption under the impairment of contracts clause1 might be held to be irrevocable, has resulted in clauses in about half of the constitutions forbidding the legislature ever to suspend or contract away the power to tax corporations or, occasionally, the power of taxation in general.2
Constitutional attention to specific kinds of property is not confined to great industrial and commercial organizations. Domestic animals, expositions and ferries are examples along with the extremely interesting special treatment of mineral and timber resources. Thus South Carolina® exempts mines from the general property tax and ordains that the products of mines and mining claims alone shall be taxed, and Wyoming provides that
all mines and mining claims from which gold, silver and other precious metal, soda, saline, coal. mineral, oil or other valuable deposit is or may be produced, shall be taxed in addition to the surface improvements and in lieu of taxes on the lands, on the gross product thereof as may be prescribed by law, provided that the product of all mines shall be taxed in proportion to the value thereof.
In Massachusetts' the legislature is given full power
to prescribe for wild or forest lands such methods of taxation as will develop and conserve the forest resources of the state.
Required by Cal. constitution, XIII, 10, 14; note sec. 14 (e).
9e. g., N. Y., Wis. Wis. alone has made the income tax successful. Though administered entirely by the state, the receipts are for the most part turned over to local governments.
1U. S. Const., I, 10. Most of states,-e. g., Tenn., I, 20; see Home of the Friendless v. Rouse, 8 Wall., 430; Covington v. Kentucky, 173 U. S., 231.
2e. g., the power of taxation shall never be surrendered, suspended or contracted away. (Ariz., IX, 1; Minn., IX, 1; Okla., X, 5); power to tax corporations or corporate property not to be surrendered or suspended by act of legislature. (La., 228; Mo., X, 2; Tex., VIII, 4).
3e. g., Miss., IV, 112.
4Ark., XVI, 5.
5e. g., ib.
These various inroads upon its original and absolute significance are gradually disintegrating the general property tax.
Licence or privilege taxes upon business and occupations. 221. are especially characteristic of the South and, notwithstanding their condemnation from the point of view of both theory and practice by students of taxation, they form part of the revenue system of every state. Though required by none of the constitutions, about one-third expressly permit or regulate them.8
A poll tax is required by fourteen constitutions, subject to various limitations as to age, sex, purpose and amount. It usually falls upon males between twenty-one and fifty or sixty years of age, and the proceeds usually go to the support of education. The poll tax seldom exceeds one or two dollars per year. Georgia1 provides that
no poll tax shall be levied except for educational purposes, and such tax shall not exceed $1 annually upon each poll.
Eight other states expressly permit the levy of a poll tax and four prohibit it. According to the Maryland Bill of Rights1 the levying of taxes by the poll is grievous and oppressive and ought to be prohibited.
The poll tax without any constitutional authorization forms a part of the revenue systems of the twenty-one states remaining. There are numerous variations in detail: for example, in Illinois it exists only in the form of a permissive road tax for counties and in Vermont polls are taxed as property of the arbitrary value of two hundred dollars.5
Twelve constitutions expressly permit the levying of income taxes." In Ohio at least half of the income tax must be returned to the city, village or township in which it originated.
Ala., Ariz., Ark., Fla., Ida., Ill., Ky., La., Mont., Neb., Okla., S. C., Tenn., Tex., Utah, Va., W. Va., Wis. See, also, Mass.. Pt. II, ch. 1, sec. I, 4.
Ala., Ark., Del., La., Me., Miss., Nev., N. H., N. C., R. I. (voters only); S. C., Tenn., Va., Wyo. (county purposes only).
1VII, 2, par. 3. Held not to prevent requirement to work on roads. 2Fla., Ida., Ky., Mass., N. D., Okla., Tex., W. Va.
Cal., Md., Ore., O.
"The tax is $2.
Ariz., IX, 12; Cal. XIII, 11; Ky., 174; N. C., V, 3; 0., XIII, 8, 9; Okla., X, 12; S. C., X, 1; Tenn., II, 28; Tex., VIII, 1; Utah, XIII, 12; Va., XIII, 170; Wis., VIII, 1.
223. Income Tax.
In North Carolina the tax must not fall upon the income from
The income tax is one of the most approved of modern revenue producers. The careful administration of the federal income tax should facilitate state administration and encourage the adoption of the tax by the states.
The taxation of the right of inheritance is expressly authorized by five constitutions. Virginia' recognizes it by providing that it shall apply to legatees or devisees whose property is otherwise exempt, and Alabama2 by limiting such taxation to collateral succession and to two and one-half per cent. of the value of the estate. Arizona, Ohio and Oklahoma expressly authorize the taxation of both direct and collateral succession at graduated rates. In Ohio at least half of the tax must be returned to the government of the locality where it originated. Louisiana forbids a rate higher than three per cent. and exempts $10,000 in the case of direct heirs and limits the rate to ten per cent. upon collaterals. Bequests to educational and other institutions, furthermore, are exempt and all of the proceeds of the inheritance tax go to the support of public schools; but the tax must not be levied when the property has borne its just proportion of taxes prior to its passing-a clause apparently
"N. C., Okla., S. C., Va.
Income tax in harmony with tendency throughout world: Seligman, The Income Tax, 642.
Ariz., IX, 12; La., 235, 236; N. H., II, 6; 0., XII, 7, 9; Okla., X, 12. 1XIII, 183.