Page images
PDF
EPUB

Iron $324.57; Leonidas $309.68; Buhl $307.68; Keewatin $286.98; Hibbing $236.86; Coleraine $207.79; and Taconite $202.58.

These excessive levies are imposed by people who pay but a very small part of the taxes, hence the incentive to extravagant public expenditures in so many of the mining districts. Mining property pays ninety-nine and one-tenth per cent of all taxes levied in the village of Franklin; ninety-four and one-fourth per cent in Marble; nearly ninety-nine and three-fourths per cent in Leonidas; over ninety-six and three-fourths per cent in Buhl; ninety-six and one-half per cent in Keewatin; about ninety-five and threequarters per cent in Hibbing; ninety and one-fourth per cent in Coleraine, and a little over ninety-two per cent in the village of Taconite.

In 3 cities and 10 villages, located in the mining districts of St. Louis county, the total levies last year amounted to $12,756,754, and of this amount, $11,908,520 was levied on property connected with the mining industry. In other words, last year in these cities and villages mining property paid nearly ninety-four per cent of all tax levies. It is entirely within reason to say that if the tax burdens were distributed among the residents of these cities and villages in the same relative proportion as in the other cities and villages of the state, tax levies would be very much lower than they are. It is always easy to spend the other fellow's money.

No one desires to deprive the municipalities of the mining districts of needed, and even liberal public revenues for the support of all proper functions of municipal government, or for the building and maintenance of modern and well-equipped public schools with an efficient and well-paid teaching staff. But when tax levies run riot, as they have in some of the mining districts of the state, it is time to call a halt on further extravagant public expenditures. We believe that no one would seriously contend that any such excessive levies would be made if the people who control the levies paid the taxes, as they do in non-mining districts. In districts where ninety-five per cent of all taxes is paid by a few people, excessive levies will almost invariably be found.

It will be generally admitted that mining districts are frequently confronted with more complex administrative problems than nonmining districts; that economic conditions are subject to more frequent, and often more extreme changes in the former than in the latter; and that because of these differences, larger public revenues are necessary in mining than in non-mining districts. But admitting their greater needs no one will seriously contend that the cost of local and school governments is from five to ten times greater in mining than in non-mining districts, as the levies of last year indicate. The present excessive levies in some of the mining districts point to either unwise and unnecessary expenditures, or wasteful extravagance in the administration of public affairs. Whichever may be the cause, it is not a wholesome condition and should be speedily remedied.

While tax limitations should always be sufficiently liberal to permit of the raising of ample public revenues to meet the reasonable needs of every community, any amount permitted in excess of such reasonable needs is almost sure to spell extravagance in public expenditures, and when, as already stated, such extravagance runs riot, it becomes a public menace because of its demoralizing influence on the public conscience, not only in the communities immediately concerned, but in the entire state. No community should be permitted to impose taxes on business or property in excess of its reasonable needs, regardless of whether the tax is paid by large or small property owners. The necessary revenues to defray the cost of the efficient, and at the same time, the economical administration of public affairs must come from a tax on property. The burden of the tax, however, should be so apportioned that it will fall equitably and justly on the property taxed, regardless of ownership, and no departure from this principle can be justified on the ground that the property is owned by a wealthy individual or corporation. Such distinction is recognized in neither law nor morality.

While a per capita limitation is a new departure in restrictive tax legislation in our state, the principle has been incorporated into the charters of most cities operating under so-called home rule charters. In the final analyses, perhaps nothing measures the revenue needs of a city or village more accurately than population. It determines the area of a city or village to a considerable extent; it is the principal factor in the housing problem; in necessary sanitary regulations; in police and fire protection; in the lighting, grading, paving and up-keep of streets; in necessary educational facilities, as well as in practically all other activities of civic governments. The revenues required to defray the costs of all of these functions of local government can be predicated on population with a much greater degree of accuracy than on taxable values.

That a liberal policy should be pursued in fixing per capita tax limitations will be generally admitted. At the same time, they should be sufficiently restrictive to prevent the imposing of unreasonable or unnecessary tax burdens on business or property. The development of the state and its industries will be best promoted by imposing such limitations as may be necessary to curb extravagance in public expenditures, and at the same time elastic enough to meet every demand for the wholesome, wise, and sound administration of progressive civic government.

And now, just a few words in conclusion. I want to answer a question that I know some of you would like to ask, but your modesty forbids. Why expose your rapidly growing tax burdens; will it not hurt your state?

Let me answer your anticipated question by saying that while truth is unpalatable at times, in the end it is wholesome and bene. ficial. Personal introspection is good for us. I have discussed our growing tax burdens frankly, and without any attempt at concealment or palliation. They are growing heavier year by year, and will soon reach the danger point. It is high time that our people awoke to the situation, and if the figures and comparisons I have given you will aid in arousing them from their tax lethargy, I will have accomplished something worth while.

But how about your own state? Are tax burdens not growing heavier with you? Is it not possible that if you compare your tax burdens of today with those of ten or fifteen or twenty years ago, you, too, will find a large increase ? If not, let me say boldly, you are living in the past and not in the present; you are lagging in the march of progress, for if you are not moving forward, then, relatively, you are moving backward. If you are numbered among the forward-looking states, as of course you are, you, too, could unfold a story of growing tax burdens, and, let me frankly confess in this conviction I find scme consolation, for there is force in the old adage “misery likes company."

However, notwithstanding the somewhat discouraging tone of my message this morning, I am not a pessimist. I have not lost faith in the future of our state. But in order that our future may not be jeopardized the strictest economy consistent with efficient and progressive public administration must be practiced by every department of government. New enterprises not urgently needed should be deferred until the taxpayer regains his lost equilibrium. · Let us halt any further increase in public expenditures until the taxpayer catches up with himself. Let us make and keep taxes our servants and not permit them to become our masters.

CHAIRMAN LESER: There will be no opportunity this morning to discuss this paper, but there may be time later in the conference. The next subject deals with special tax commissions. It is rather a coincidence, I imagine, that at a session held eleven years ago in Richmond, I presided at a round table discussion when that was the subject of discussion - the method of procedure of state tax commissions and the general difficulties they encounter. Mr. Dutcher, a member of the Iowa special tax commission, who was slated for an address this morning, is unfortunately unable to be here, but we are not handicapped on that account. I remember in the early days I never thought that a session of the national conference was complete unless I saw the smiling countenance of

Mr. Brindley of Iowa. I missed him for a number of years, but he is back in the fold, and is here to take the place of Mr. Dutcher; he will tell us something about the difficulties encountered in the attempt to modernize a state tax system, not only with reference to Iowa but with reference to any state-Mr. Brindley.

JOHN E. BRINDLEY of Iowa: Mr. Chairman and ladies and gentlemen of the conference: I regret very much indeed that Senator Dutcher could not be present at this time. He is one of the leading attorneys of our state and a very able, constructive member of our state senate; but in his absence, and on rather short notice, I will do the best I can to enumerate some of the problems which we have been considering in their relationship to similar problems in other states, and I shall try to keep within the time limit.

Now, the first thought that I desire to present to you is the fact that any special commission, whether it is a legislative tax commission or is otherwise constituted, should do what members of our commission very wisely did at the beginning of their deliberations, namely; they put aside any preconceived notions regarding the tax system as a whole, or any part of that system, determined to go into the problem in a sincere way with the idea, if possible. of formulating a constructive program.

I believe when I outline a few of the tentative conclusions. which I think in most cases will be final conclusions, incorporated in bills to revise the tax system, you will agree that they have followed that intention quite religiously.

The second thought to bring out at this time is the almost unanimous feeling of the special commission, even early in its hearingsand I might say that we held very extensive hearings; took stenographic reports of the same, which the secretary, Mr. A. H. Davison, has very carefully condensed for the benefit of the commission. I say the conclusion was reached that one of our most important questions in Iowa is that of tax administration. Not only did they reach that conclusion but they reached the conclusion that a bill to change the system of administration should be separate and distinct from other bills to make substantive changes in any parts of the tax law. I think in 1912 our special tax commission made a mistake along that particular line. As secretary of that body I did my best to induce them to do just what the present commission, on its own initiative and after a very short investigation, decided to do. If you undertake to incorporate in one very comprehensive measure, not merely the administrative changes in the method of assessment and the review of property for the purposes of taxation, but also a long string of substantive changes in your tax laws, why of course as no chain is any stronger than its weakest link, the opposition will pile up, and your very lengthy

and much labored measure is likely to find itself in the legislative waste-basket. I think it is wise to place in separate bills each substantive change that is desired, and let every tub stand squarely on its own bottom when it comes to the matter of practical legislation. That the commission has decided to do.

With reference to questions of administration, without going into detail, I might say that the special commission has been very greatly impressed by the repeated recommendations of such commissions as that of Kansas and I think Minnesota, the Dakotas and Wisconsin — repeated recommendations — to make the county rather than the smaller unit of government, the unit for the assessment of property in the State of Iowa.

The commission has therefore, for the time being at least, and I think finally, concluded to recommend that local assessors and local township and city review boards be abolished as out of date and not in harmony with the present economic conditions, and in lieu thereof we should provide for an appointed county assessor, with deputies to do the work of the assessment of property in the respective counties. That, of course, is a most far-reaching change. We all appreciate that.

Mr. J. G. ARMSON: May I ask you who appoints under the proposed bill?

MR. BRINDLEY: That is a question which under the proposed bill is one of the very important problems, and for the time being we have agreed that the appointment of this assessor shall be vested in a county board, composed of the chairman of the county board of supervisors — you call them county commissioners in Minnesota, I believe — the county auditor, the county treasurer, and, I think, the clerk. This board, however, cannot dispense with the services of a competent county assessor without granting the assessor an appeal to the state board of assessment and review, which we hope to create in this measure. Now that, of course, is a fundamental and far-reaching administrative change which would be of interest to many states.

Another point in that connection which I might mention is a feeling on the part of the commission that perhaps some expense can be saved and possibly a very much greater listing of moneys and credits or intangibles secured if we provide a plan whereby. on sheets prepared by the state board, distributed by the county assessor, the taxpayer is required to list-not value-merely list his own property for the purpose of taxation.

Mr. Armson: Real and personal ?

MR. BRINDLEY: Yes. That is rather a unique suggestion. I am not passing any arbitrary judgments pro and con regarding it. I

« PreviousContinue »