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period of time, bonds in the state of Indiana were authorized by the local boards amounting to more than thirty millions of dollars, and it was that very act upon the part of these local boards that opened the eyes of the legislature and caused them to re-enact this law, with the provision in it that jurisdiction should be given to our board upon a petition of ten taxpayers.
Now, it means a great deal to the taxpayers to be able, in this sort of way, to regulate their expenditures; it arouses an interest in them; it educates the taxpayer; teaches him something about the ways in which his money is being expended, and I think that the whole question of education of the taxpayer is the most important one of all. I believe that there are very few men, in any walk of life-bankers, lawyers, farmers-who are thoroughly familiar with our taxing systems. They know that taxes are levied and that they must be paid, but how that money is expended, not one per cent of our citizens know. I don't think our friend, Senator Van Alstine, can lower the tax rate by cutting down this terrible extravagance in the use of automobiles. That is only a part of the general disposition of the times, manifesting itself not only in private life but in public life.
I should like to ask the Senator if at the time he inquired what the life of an automobile was, he inquired what was the average life of the people who rode in them?
MR. W. P. WHITE: I have never favored a uniform method of taxation, as has been suggested here, for the very reason that if we had a uniform method, we should not be able to profit by the experiences that have been related here, in regard to raising and spending the money. I think every tub ought to stand on its own bottom.
I am reminded very often in this situation of the old fable regarding the fox who had unfortunately caught his tail in the trap. and at the next foxes' meeting he came in and suggested that the foxes dispense with their tails; that it was an unnecessary appendage. So the old fox who was presiding over the assembly, like our good friend Senator Lord, said, "Will the gentleman arise and show his appendage that we may understand why he advocates this change in the fundamental law of foxes." So you people who are attempting to change the fundamental laws in regard to things; remember that thing! The initiative and referendum is one of the things that come out of it.
We need in municipal expenditures the kind of supervision that has just been outlined by the gentleman from Indiana. We have in Lowell, Massachusetts, a tax limit on bond issues. Of course, it is limited by the valuation of the property. We have large manufacturing properties in Lowell, and it is very easy to raise the assessed value of the community, and thereby be enabled to borrow
more money for needed civic improvements. In order to limit the amount of money that might be expended, we adopted a new city charter. We have five commissioners, and the commissioners were prohibited by very strenuous laws, and penalties, amounting almost to imprisonment, from violating the provisions of the charter. Notwithstanding that, one of the commissioners exceeded his appropriations for the year. Was there any civil process entered against that man? Oh, no. The district attorney was also a politician, and he did not like to bring out the opposition of the supporters of this individual. That man is now mayor of the city of Lowell. He had appointed a board to control public expenditures, and when the board did not do as he desired, he promptly appointed two other members and fired those, so that his project might go through. He has instituted a new board of assessors. Exactly what that board of assessors is going to do to the city of Lowell, I don't know, but I do know this, that if that system and method of spending public moneys which now obtains in the city of Lowell continues, the manufacturing interests that are located there will come out and locate in Minneapolis if your state laws permit it.
Our tax rate is $36.50 on a thousand dollars. We are promised a reduction of fifty cents on the hundred this year, but they have said nothing about the assessment of property. We may reduce the tax rate but we shall unquestionably increase the valuation.
WALTER W. LAW, JR.: What is the basis of valuation now? MR. WHITE: The basis of valuation is supposed to be the true value of the property.
MR. LAW: What is it as a matter of fact?
MR. WHITE: I will tell you my experience when I went to Lowell. They are supposed to publish annually a book of the assessed values of property in the city. They don't always do it, because it is not convenient to have it done. I bought a piece of property there, and looking up what it was assessed for, I found that I paid about the assessed value for the property, and in that way I measured the fairness of the valuations of other property in the city, but since then there has been a decided increase, of course, due to the inflation of values incident to the war, but do you think those assessments are ever going to be deflated when the prices come down? Nothing doing.
MR. HOUGH: We reduced them in our state this year.
MR. WHITE: Because you have a state board who are not dependent upon the local people for their positions, and that is exactly what I am contending for; that we need the support of the farmers in our state to regulate taxation, and I hope that the far
mers will not desist from their effort to straighten the business of taxation, as they call it, so we may know where we are at.
Now, on this question of taxation, I feel that there is only one solution; that the men who are organized in city unions should be disfranchised from voting for city officials, and those who are organized in state unions should be disfranchised from voting for state officials, and those in the service of the government of the United States should have no vote at all. Most of my life I had no vote, so I know whereof I speak. I went into Charlotte, North Carolina, and found the streets admirably paved and beautifully taken care of, and the city employees diligently working. Most of them were darkies. You men understand why they kept the city clean and why they worked. Up in Lowell, where we have organized labor who are voters, we tried to get a law to pave the streets by contract. Do you think the city voters accepted that thing? Not on your life! They had had a free-and-easy method of paving the streets, and it was a matter of indifference to them whether they got the streets paved within the limit of time set or not. I have seen them work-at least going through the motions. On my first introduction to Lowell I said, "This work is city work." I was asked, How do you know?" And I said, "The way the men work."
CHAIRMAN HAGERMAN: Your time is up.
C. P. LINK of Colorado: Members of the conference: Colorado in 1913 passed quite a rigid limit of taxation law that I think even to this time is fairly modern. I might say that the final amount of taxes is lodged in the tax commission of that state. In 1918 we sent to all tax-levying bodies in Colorado a very rigid circular explaining, of course, the business conditions of the state, and requesting all the tax-levying bodies to hold their taxes down to the very lowest point consistent with good government. We were quite severely censured by some of the educational people; by some of the town government people, and by some of the road and county government people, but in the main the spirit of that circular was well followed, and resulted, I am sure, in very serious consideration, and some reduction in taxation.
I mention these matters to let you know that we have been of this spirit for a number of years there, but as was explained to you by the Indiana representatives, the attempt to hold down both annual taxes and bonds requires one of the most strenuous efforts, if not the most strenuous, known in the United States. You have heard explained by these representatives the vast difficulties in Indiana, how the law was repealed, put back, and then repealed, and how the officials proceeded thereunder. This illustrates the point I am making, that the people, generally speaking, are quite
determined to maintain especially their schools and roads, and in Colorado- and I presume it is true in the other states over seventy-five per cent of our taxes go for schools and roads. I presume that is generally true.
Now, I will cite just one illustration, and that is our largest taxing district: Denver. A reform wave struck there and swept out the school authorities, on the claim of high taxes, and so forth, and put in a business commission-said to be--and I think it was very largely a business school board. Within three years' time that board was swept out by a wave, which has resulted in the present board being put in, consisting, I think, of five of the best men the school board has ever known. Still, it is confronted with the same situation; the taxes have not gone down. This new board has secured one issue of bonds and is now prepared to put up another bond issue.
Now then, harking back to this discussion which started the other night. I think it was most unfortunate that Dr. Adams was assailed as he was, because those of us who have worked here for ten years know he has been one of the most strenuous laborers for an equitable tax system and for economical and efficient expenditure of revenues, but I want to say that I share Dr. Adams' view— and as a Democrat I am taking much pleasure at this time in Colorado in going through that state trying to uphold the hands of our Republican federal administration and our Republican state administration. It is a shame that there is such a tendency, brought about by nasty, petty politics, to assail officers in power.
In closing I want to say to you: get the best laws you can, but Mr. Hagerman and Dr. Adams and one or two others have explained the situation, and that is to get intelligent budget systems and laws you must educate your people.
CHAIRMAN HAGERMAN: Before proceeding with the discussion, the chairman of the conference would like to make an announcement.
CHAIRMAN LORD: The simple announcement I desire to make is that the resolutions presented this morning by the committee on resolutions will be taken up for consideration at two o'clock sharp this afternoon. The gavel will fall at two o'clock to take up the matter of the resolutions and their adoption, and I hope that everyone of you will be present at that time.
A. M. FRASER of Winnipeg: I was very much interested in hearing the delegates from Indiana on the methods they have adopted for getting some control of excessive expenditures. The root of the trouble with us all, as I take it, is that those who impose the taxes are not the people who pay them.
In the city of Winnipeg we have a budget today for civic ex
penditure of over ten millions of dollars. The total of that civic expenditure is levied at least to the extent of ninety per cent on the real property owner. The result is confiscation of property.
In his inaugural address to the new city council this year the mayor congratulated the council on the fact that they had been able to collect within $46,000 of this enormous budget of ten millions, equal to the whole provincial budget, but he omitted to state in his address, by forgetfulness or otherwise, that the amount collected included a sum of about $270,000 realized by a tax sale, representing over a million of assessed values of citizens' property confiscated.
When it is necessary in order to levy a $10,000,000 budget to confiscate annually a million dollars worth of citizens' property, things surely have reached a pretty pass, and I do not think there seems much ground for congratulation.
Since 1910, while our population and assessment have each increased about 50%, our taxes have increased 300%, and our tax arrears 500%, now amounting to nearly $5,000,000!
In the year 1918 I endeavored to make an investigation with regard to tax arrears in Northwestern Canada, and I found that, in round figures, the tax arrears in Winnipeg amounted to $3,500, 000, in the suburb of St. Boniface $1,500,000, in Brandon $500,000, in Portage la Prairie $250,000, and in the Province of Manitoba $11,500,000; while in British Columbia they amounted to $14,000, 000, in Alberta to $20,000,000, and in Saskatchewan I was unable to obtain the figures, but I believe they were worse than Alberta, and presumably were too horrible to disclose. At any rate I failed to extract them from the municipal commissioner's office. The numbers of the Saskatchewan Gazette of September and October, 1921, contained over 500 pages of double columns of tax-sales advertised. I submit that such facts and figures (due of course to inability, not unwillingness to pay) are a scandal and a disgrace to Canada, and I ask whether they do not suggest that there is something radically wrong with the whole basis of the real estate tax? I contend that it is unsound at bottom; that it does not adequately comply with the basic principle of ability to pay, or with the spirit of the fourteenth amendment to the American Constitution, while under certain conditions it is grossly unjust, and leads to grotesque and preposterous results. (See Professor R. M. Haig's remarks in the March, 1919 Bulletin of the N. T. A. on a statement I submitted to him with regard to some Winnipeg properties, showing that the ratio of the tax to the net rentals varied from 33% to 758%.)
At any rate, I should like to have the question of the soundness and equity of the real property tax as related to land and buildings locally assessed, in its present form of an annual tax on assessed capital values, referred to a committee of our association for ex