« PreviousContinue »
"Though conditions of life have grown so puzzling in their complexity, though the changes have been so vast, yet we may remain absolutely sure of one thing; that now, as ever in the past, and as it ever will be in the future, there can be no substitute for the elemental virtues, for the elemental qualities to which we allude when we speak of a man as not only a good man, but as emphatically a man. We can build up the standard of individual citizenship and individual well being, we can raise the national standard and make it what it can and shall be made, only by each of us steadfastly keeping in mind that there can be no substitute for the world-old, humdrum, commonplace qualities of truth, justice and courage, thrift, industry, common sense and genuine sympathy with and fellow feeling for others."
PRESIDENT'S POLICY OF PROBLEMS.
A Study of Governor Roosevelt's Message to the Legislature of New York Covering the Latest and Greatest Modem Questions,—Taxation, Restraint of Trusts, All Phases of Labor Issues—Corporations, Municipal Ownership, the Boxing Law.
ALMOST as great an impression was made on the public by the coincidence in time and sentiment of the Pan-American Exposition speech of President McKinley, destined to be his last formal address—and the Labor Day speech of Vice-President Roosevelt earlier in the same week, as by the few words spoken by the Vice-President before taking the oath prescribed for the President. The unity of opinion and purpose between the President called away and his successor, was most satisfactory, and while the comfort of the people was aided at home, the credit of the country was confirmed and strengthened away from home.
Well as the people knew Roosevelt, they were not acquainted as they desired with his views of the later questions arisen in our country; but he had, in his first message as Governor of New York, defined his position in one of the most forcible and clean-cut communications, an officer high in responsibility ever wrote for the general public. The greater of Roosevelt's messages to his State foreshadowed his first Presidential message, except in relation to the September tragedy and dealing with the anarchists. The date of the Governor's message was, Albany, January 3, 1900. The Governor began by paying this compliment to the State Government preceding:
"It is a very genuine pleasure to congratulate the Legislature upon the substantial sum of achievement in legislation and administration of the past year. Laws of the utmost usefulness to the community have been enacted, and there has been a steady betterment throughout the year in the methods and results of the administration of the Government."
The first subject was that of the canals. It would not have been the way of Roosevelt if any other question than that of the canals had taken first place, for that was the one that was "burning." There was a Canal Commission at work but it had not completed its labors and the subject was so vast and vital it was evident the Commissioners would not have time to consider the canal problem in the way that was desirable, therefore the Governor appointed the committee headed by General Francis V. Greene to examine the whole system. General Greene was associated with Mr. Frank S. Witherbee, of Port Henry; Major Symons, of the United States Army; Mr. John P. Scatchard, of Buffalo, and ex-Mayor George E. Greene, of Binghamton. Of these the Governor said: "They are gentlemen whose lives are filled with exacting duties; yet they have given, unpaid, months of their valuable time and their best thought and effort to the solution to these problems. Such disinterested expert service is of incalculable value to the State, and makes it greatly the debtor to the men rendering the service. The conduct of these two commissions, and of the Commission on the Educational Bill, emphasizes one of the most pleasing features of our public life, viz., the readiness with which able and high minded private citizens will do special public work when they are convinced of its necessity."
The Governor added: "These were the only two lines on which action would be taken. On both of them action was taken. On the one hand, the investigation was so conducted as to leave no room for any further question as to criminal proceedings; and, on the other hand, the reformation in the methods of management has been so complete as to leave nothing to be done save to continue and perfect the new system."
And "The new Superintendent has managed the canals with the care and skill which would be expected in a private business enterprise. It is unnecessary to say that the highest standard of integrity has been demanded. There has been no toleration whatever of inefficiency, and no retention of any man who filled a needless position or who filled unworthily a necessary position."
These sweeping statements were sustained by the figures. The canal matter was one involving millions.
There was another question that might have been said to call attention to itself by spontaneous combustion, that of taxation; and as it will interest the whole country now to know what the President of the United States said then to the people of one State, we reproduce it in full.
"The whole problem of taxation is now, as it has been at almost all times and in almost all places, one of extreme difficulty. It has become more and more evident in recent years that existing methods of taxation, which worked well enough in a simple state of society, are not adequate to secure justice when applied to the conditions of our complex and highly specialized modern industrial development. At present the real estate owner is certainly bearing an excessive proportion of the tax burden. Men who have made a special study of the theory of taxation and men who have had long experience in its practical application are alike in conflict among themselves as to the best general form. Absolute equality, absolute justice in matters of taxation will probably never
be realized; but we can approximate it much more closely than at present. The last Legislature most wisely appointed a committee to consider the feasibility of a thorough and far-reaching change in our tax laws; and there is good reason to believe that their forthcoming report will present a scheme which will receive the support of substantially all classes of taxpayers, and which will be of such a character as to commend itself to the most careful consideration of your body upon broad lines.
"The law must not only be correct in the abstract; it must work well in the concrete. Experience shows that certain classes or symbols of property which in theory ought to be taxed can not under the present practice be reached. Some kind of taxes are so fertile in tempting to perjury and sharp dealing that they amount to taxes on honesty—the last quality on which we should impose a needless burden. Moreover, where the conditions and complexity of life vary widely as between different communities, the desirability and possibility of certain taxes may seem to be so different that it is hard to devise a common system that will work. If possible the State tax should be levied on classes of property and in a manner which will render it collectible with entire fairness in all sections of the community, as for instance the corporation or collateral inheritance tax is now collected. So far as possible we should divorce the State and municipal taxes, so as to render unnecessary the annual equalization of values between the several counties which has proved so fertile a source of friction between the city and the country.
"There is a constant influx into New York State of capital oft-times previously incorporated under the laws of other States, and an increasing number of men of means from other parts of the country, non-residents of New York, come into this State to sojourn and to conduct and be at the head of various business enterprises which are drawn to New York as the financial centre of the whole country. This calls for legislation which shall provide, in a broad and fair spirit, for taxing foreign capital in this State, whether in corporate or individual form, exactly as we tax domestic capital doing business along the same lines. •
"I call your attention to the fact that the great burden of taxation is local not State. In the large cities the heavy local charges are mainly due to the action of the local authorities themselves. For this the local authorities are, of course, responsible. But sometimes taxation is added to by legislative enactment.
"On certain points the failure of the tax laws has become so evident that
it is possible to provide more or less complete remedies without waiting for a
general scheme of reorganization. Again and again in recent years, this has
been recognized, and through legislative exactment certain species of property
which had escaped taxation have been made to pay their proper share of the T. R.—13
public burdens. The collateral inheritance tax offers a case in point. The corporation tax offers another. In all these matters of taxation, however, it is necessary to proceed with extreme caution, the path never being so simple and clear as the advocates of any particular measure invariably believe. Every wealthy corporation that perpetrates or is allowed to perpetrate a wrong helps to produce or inflame a condition of angry excitement against all corporations, which in its turn may in the end harm alike the honest and the dishonest agents of public service, and thereby do far-reaching damage to the whole body politic. Much of the outcry against wealth, against the men who acquire wealth, and against the means by which it is acquired, is blind, unreasoning and unjust; but in too many cases it has a basis of real abuses; and we must remember the very act of misconduct which affords any justification for this clamor is not only bad because of the wrong done, but also because the justification thus given inevitably strengthens movements which are in reality profoundly antisocial and anti-civic. Our laws should be so drawn as to protect and encourage corporations which do their honest duty by the public; and to discriminate sharply against those organized in a spirit of mere greed, or for improper speculative purposes.
"There is plenty of misconduct, plenty of selfish disregard of the rights of others, and especially of the weak. There is also plenty of honorable and disinterested effort to prevent such misconduct or to minimize its effects. Any rational attempt to prevent or counteract the evils, by legislation or otherwise, is deserving of hearty support; but it can not be too deeply impressed upon us that such attempt can result in permanent good only in proportion as they are made in a sane and wholesome spirit, as far removed as possible from what is hysterical or revolutionary. It is infinitely better when needed social and civic changes can be brought about as the result of natural and healthy growth than when they come with the violent dislocation and widespread wreck and damage inevitably attendant upon any movement which is revolutionary in its nature."
The next problem was the Franchise Tax. The Governor said of it: "At the same time a change should never be shirked on the ground of its being radical, when the abuse has become flagrant and no other remedy appears possible. This was the case with the taxation of local franchises in this State. For years most of these franchises escaped paying their proper share of the public burdens. The last Legislature placed on the statute book a law requiring them to be treated as real estate for the purposes of taxation, the tax to be assessed and collected by the State Assessors for the benefit of the localities concerned. This marks an immense stride in advance. Of course, at first serious difficulties are sure to arise in enforcing it. The means for carrying it into effect are very inadequate. There may be delay before we get from