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should be revised, it would be within the power of the community to petition the state tax commission to give them a re-appraisal, or even if conditions had changed so that such an appraisal ought to be made to bring it in harmony with other lands.
CHAIRMAN HALE: The meeting is open for general discussion. MR. W. P. WHITE: Do you find in New Hampshire that land with cut-over forests is sometimes deserted and left to go to waste? CHAIRMAN HALE: Yes, sir, we do.
MR. WHITE: What do you do in that case?
CHAIRMAN HALE: It has been our experience that it has been stripped and stripped clean. Some seven or eight years ago we enacted a law which provided for replanting of forest lands with not less than twelve hundred trees to the acre, and it gave the owner a rebate. It is a graduated rebate, so much for the first ten years, and so much for the next ten years, on his taxes, but we have found that little advantage has been taken of the law, and that it has had practically no effect whatever in the reforestation of the state.
MR. WHITE: What do you propose to do about that, because that is a distinct menace to the civilization that we are now laboring under. If those hills become bare the districts below them will be flooded and we shall have no trees.
CHAIRMAN HALE: Of course the federal government has taken over thousands of acres in the White Mountain region. The matter of timber taxation has been before the people of New Hampshire for several years, and been presented within the last ten years three times to constitutional conventions and submitted to the people for authority to the legislature to classify or handle timber as it pleased, but the people have turned the amendment down each time.
MR. F. H. VANDENBOOM of Michigan: I have been very much interested in the matter discussed by Messrs. Fairchild and Murphy and Barnes. The question arose as to why they had been so slow in making progress in taking care of timber lands. My observation has been that the man who has been looking for some change in the assessment of timber lands has been unfair, in asking too much, and therefore did not get anything. I heard this matter discussed before state associations and usually they have asked for the taxes to be eliminated, and if that were the case, what would happen with the surrounding properties? I notice the drift of the paper tonight is along fair lines, and I was glad to see Mr. Fairchild bring this out, because I think that what has delayed action by the legislatures is that where they have an idea that they have
been overtaxed, they have asked that the entire tax be removed, which would be utterly impossible. I have been an assessing officer for some fourteen years, and for four years chairman of the committee of taxation of the Michigan senate, and we know that when people start out and are not fair, they may get somewhere for a time, but on the whole they really don't get anywhere. While they talk a good deal of fraud and every man taking his price, and all that nonsense we read about and hear about, I still don't believe it. I find a lot of men stand on general principles of honesty and fairness, and I believe that the forest question can now, if it has gotten down to an idea of honesty and fairness, receive honest. and fair treatment by the legislatures, because I believe that is the point that is going to win. I for one am very much interested and am very anxious to see something done towards reforestation, and I have always been very much opposed to the idea of the slashing of timber, such as we have had in Michigan. I have seen illustrated through pictures and otherwise, how they handle forests in foreign countries, and I see what they are doing in this country. Up in northern Michigan they certainly have been slashing, and I hope that some law will be brought about sooner or later through the government to prevent this slashing and this waste.
A few years ago we talked about an awful shortage of fuel, and they talk about it now again, and yet there are thousands and thou sands of acres of good wood going to waste in the forests just because the other fellow took off the best and left the rest. Not only that, but it is a breeding place for bad forest fires, and helps to destroy much very valuable timber. So, I would say to the timber men, if they are looking for concessions, don't ask for the whole thing, and that the tax be all taken off, but ask for what is right and fair, and don't go around mumbling and come before the legislature and ask for twice as much as you expect to get, and then expect that you are going to get just what you ought to have, because that don't always work out. We have found that the man who has come out fair and square, shows that he has a complaint to make, and makes it fairly and squarely, and asks for just exactly what he ought to have, has a much better chance of getting it than the fellow who asks for twice what he ought to have.
MR. WHITE: Have you any waste land in Michigan that the forest has been cut off and then been deserted, nothing done with it. MR. VANDENBOOM: Yes.
MR. WHITE: What are you going to do about that?
MR. VANDENBOOM: Well, we haven't done very much about it yet. There is another thing about this forest land. In our country where the forest is far from a market, we have never assessed it as timber land, and where it is simply scattering timber of some
value, we have never assessed that as timber land, and the timber man immediately upon cutting his will write the assessing officer and notify him he has cut this timber off and ask for a reduction of taxes, when the taxes were never put upon a timber value at all. So there again they have not acted fair on the timber question, because this land is taxed the same as the farm land next to it, and we have not figured that the timber was an improvement value, because of the lack of either a market or a sufficient quantity of timber to be called timber land, but immediately after cutting it off. they ask for a reduction of taxes.
We cannot get anywhere by reducing taxes where taxes can be collected. We have trouble enough in collecting taxes where they are collectible. The only trouble with our tax system is that there are too many people howling for clemency. If everybody paid his fair share there would be no trouble about this particular tax question. This is somewhat away from the subject. We talk a great deal about the state tax, and when you mention tax they refer to the state tax immediately. One man in Michigan pays more taxes to the government for the privilege of doing business in Michigan than the whole state tax amounts to. Henry Ford's federal tax was over twenty millions, and it only takes twenty millions to run the whole state of Michigan. Why worry about it?
MR. C. J. BUELL: I want to raise a question that is intimately associated with this matter. The gentleman informs me that in the State of Michigan the state does not now alienate any timber land that it may be the owner of. I believe it has been the policy of the State of Minnesota for some years back, that if the state owns the land, it does not sell it, it keeps it. Now, here comes another question: There is.in the State of Minnesota a good deal of cutover land that has been allowed to revert to the state, because the owner thinks it is not worth while to pay the tax. Now, if I understand it rightly, in the State of Minnesota we have no provision by which the state shall become the absolute owner of such land. Am I right about that, Mr. Lord? In the State of Michigan they seem to have such a provision, that if the owner does not redeem his land from the tax sale within three years, that the state becomes the owner of it. Now, I want to suggest that it would be a wise thing for the legislature of Minnesota to adopt a system of that same kind, so that wherever the owner of cut-over land refuses to pay his tax, and it reverts to the state for non-payment of taxes, that at the end of two or three years the state shall become the absolute owner of that land. Then the state will be able to go ahead and adopt a system of reforestation on such land and in harmony with the general state policy of not alienating any of its timber land. Of course we do not in this state alienate any of our mineral lands either, so that it seems to me in the case of both
timber and minerals, where the owner does not pay up his taxes promptly and it reverts to the state, that the state could provide some means of becoming the absolute owner of the timber and minerals as quickly as possible. I don't know how that would meet the approval of other gentlemen from other parts of the country.
MR. WHITE: In respect to the desertion of land, do you not feel that the owner of land does not attempt reforestation simply because of the prospective danger of being excessively taxed on it before he can reap a crop?
RESPONSE: No, that is not true.
MR. WHITE: Isn't that the danger? No one cares to invest his money in reforestation where it will take forty or fifty years to grow a crop, because he feels that the local tax assessors will tax him so he will never get any return.
MR. BUELL: There may be something in that, but under the general policy of the state retaining its timber and its minerals and not selling them, it seems to me we ought to encourage the state to get absolute possession as soon as possible wherever a man abandons his land.
MR. WHITE: Is it the policy of the state to reforest that land, to go to work and develop the land as forest land?
MR. BUELL: That would depend on other conditions, of course. MR. WHITE: I remember distinctly of cruising along the coast of Michigan, up in the vicinity of Bay City, and I saw stumps there that represented wonderful forests, deserted now. There was no reason that that land should not be put into timber again, except as I feel, the danger that comes from local taxation when a crop is growing and people want some money.
PROFESSOR FAIRCHILD: It seems to me that we are in danger of getting away from the discussion of the point before us tonight. We are not concerned here with problems of state forest property or alienation of abandoned tax lands; the question we ought to discuss here is the practical problem of how you are going to tax forest lands in the future, and I hoped that we might get down to brass tacks and have some discussion of that. There are a good many people here who are practical tax men and I hope timber men, and they must have something to contribute to this practically definite question. To make it specially concrete: Has this committee gotten down to the right idea, and if not, there are men here capable of suggesting where we are wrong, to set us right, and I personally hope very much we may get out of this meeting something that will carry us along further toward the solution when we get going.
MR. J. G. ARMSON of Minnesota: I have been very much interested in Dr. Fairchild's interesting and able discussion of forestry taxation and in Mr. Murphy's comments, as well as Mr. Barnes', but there seems to be one phase that has not been discussed. In view of the fact that the reaping of the harvest is so deferred, that if you are planting for reforestation you must wait twenty, thirty. forty or fifty years to reap a crop; whether after all the function of reforestation is not one of state interest rather than individual interest; whether in view of the deferred reaping of the crop, you can interest private capital in reforestation, or whether it should be a state proposition; and I should like to ask Dr. Fairchild—because I don't think there is any man in the United States who has given greater or more intensive study to forest taxation than Dr. Fairchild-I should like to ask him whether, after his study, covering a great many years, he does not think reforestation is a state proposition rather than an individual proposition.
PROFESSOR FAIRCHILD: I don't know that I am especially competent to answer that question, but I have no hesitation in saying that in many cases where forests have been cut off it is not profitable to private enterprise, under conditions as they now are, to reforest and develop a new crop yielding an income forty, fifty or sixty years hence. Where that is the case, if you are going to have reforestation at all, it must be a government policy, state or national, as the case may be.
You are all familiar with the fact that both the national government and many of our state governments have already launched out into quite an extensive program in that direction; but it seems to me that that really is not a tax question. You cannot make private enterprise go into forestry by any kind of a tax policy if it is not profitable anyway. As this tax business looks to me, we ought to make the tax system such that in case it is profitable for private enterprise to reforest cut-over lands or to handle conservatively existing forests, our tax systems will not stand in the way, and to do that I don't believe you need to give exemption or special favors or concessions of any sort. tions and concessions you won't accomplish anything. It has been If you do give those exempthoroughly proved by twenty or thirty states in twenty or thirty years' experience that that sort of thing don't work. All you need to do is to get fair, equitable taxation, which shall not be excessive in amount, and which shall be so reasonably applied that it will not be a burden to the peculiar business of forest growing. That kind of a tax system won't make forests grow where they are economically unprofitable; but, on the other hand, it won't be an obstacle to the development of forests where private forestry is an economical possibility. And there is the tax problem. The other case, where a forest won't grow under any circumstances, is not a