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LETTER RELATING TO THE PROPOSED HUD
SON RIVER BRIDGE AT TROY
STATE OF NEW YORK
Albany, May 17, 1899
To Col. John N. PARTRIDGE, Superintendent of Public
Works, Albany, N. Y.: SIR: The mayor of Watervliet and other representatives of that city have been down to see me in reference to Senator Douglas' bill to permit the construction of a bridge over the Hudson river by the Albany Railway. Their plea is now that unless they can satisfy you that they can put up a bridge that will not in any way be an obstruction to navigation, they cannot build it, and that you have complete power to veto the project, but that they would like to have the chance of satisfying you that they can put up a bridge which will in nowise obstruct navigation. I confess I am doubtful whether such a bridge can be built, although I suppose a suspension bridge would not obstruct canal navigation. They seem to desire that the steamboat landings should all be south of the present bridge in any event. ·
Will you let me know whether you think it is safe and proper for me to sign the bill and then leave to you the responsibility of deciding whether or not the bridge which they ultimately propose can with due regard to the commercial interests of the State be put across the river? Please answer me at once.
Yours very truly,
Pursuant to the power vested in me by section 4 of article IV of the Constitution, I hereby convene the Legislature in Extraordinary Session at the Capitol in the city of Albany on Monday the twenty-second day of May, 1899, at 8 o'clock in the evening.
Given under my hand and the Privy Seal of the
State at the Capitol in the city of Albany this [l s] seventeenth day of May in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and ninety-nine.
THEODORE ROOSEVELT By the Governor:
Wm. J. YOUNGS
Secretary to the Governor
MESSAGE ADVISING ACTION IN THE MATTER
OF THE TAXATION OF PUBLIC FRAN-
STATE OF NEW YORK
Albany, May 22, 1899
TO THE LEGISLATURE:
I have called you together in Extraordinary Session for the purpose of considering the subject of the taxation of franchises.
My message to the Legislature of March 27, 1899, ran in part as follows:
“At present the farmers, the market gardeners and the mechanics and tradesmen having small holdings, are pay, ing an improper and excessive portion of the general taxes, while at the same time many of the efforts to remedy this state of affairs, notably in the direction of taxing securities, are not only unwise, but inefficient, and often serve merely to put a premium upon dishonesty”.
'There is evident injustice in the light taxation of corporations. I have not the slightest sympathy with the outcry against corporations as such, or against prosperous men of business. Most of the great material works by which the entire country benefits have been due to the action of individual men, or of aggregates of men, who made money for themselves by doing that which was in the interest of the people as a whole. From an armor plant to a street railway, no work which is really beneficial to the public can be performed to the best advantage of the public save by men of such business capacity that they will not do the work unless they themselves receive ample reward for doing it. The effort to deprive them of an ample reward, merely means that they will turn their energies in some other direction; and the public will be by just so much the loser. Moreover, to tax corporations or men of means in such a way as to drive them out of the State works great damage to the State. To drive out of a community the men of means and the men who take the lead in business enterprises, would probably entail, as one of its first results, the starvation of a considerable portion of the remainder of the population.
“But while I freely admit all this, it yet remains true that a corporation which derives its powers from the State, should pay to the State a just percentage of its earnings as a return for the privileges it enjoys. This should be especially true for the franchises bestowed upon gas companies, street railroads and the like. The question of the municipal ownership of these franchises cannot be raised with propriety until the governments of all municipalities show greater wisdom and virtue than has been recently shown, for instance, in New York city; and the question of laying and assessing the tax for franchises of every kind throughout the State should in my opinion be determined by the State itself. I need not point out to you that in foreign communities a very large percentage of the taxes comes from corporations which use the public domain for pipes, tracks and the like.”
I stated that the power of assessing the tax on franchises should be left with the State authorities -- not the local authorities — because in my view this was desirable both for the sake of providing against improper favoritism of or discrimination against corporations by the local authorities, for the sake of working equity as between the franchises in different localities, and finally for the sake of providing for the cases where a railroad or telephone or telegraph line runs through several different communities.
Many representatives of corporations owning franchises heartily approve of having them properly taxed; and I am confident that, in the end, this will be of positive benefit to the franchise owners, and in no way oppressive to them, save as all taxes are oppressive to all owners of property.
The line of cleavage between good and bad citizenship does not follow the line dividing the men who represent corporate interests from the men who do not; it runs at right angles to it. We are bound to recognize this fact, to remember that we should stand for good citizenship in every form, and should neither yield to demagogic influence on the one hand, nor to improper corporate influence on the other. There is no intention of oppressing people who have put their money into franchises. We recognize that as in the case of all legitimate business they benefit not only themselves but the community at large. If a franchise is worth very little, it should be taxed very little; but where the franchise is of great value, it certainly should be heavily taxed; and the value is of course based upon the use of the city's or State's real estate. Such use of the public real estate should not be given without substantial returns, returns not only in the way of service to the public which of course a street railway or a gas company gives, precisely as the proprietor of a grocery or dry goods store gives it, but also in the way of bearing a just share of the burden of taxation; again, precisely as the owner of the grocery or dry goods store bears his share, the difference being that a railroad company, for instance, owes infinitely more than the proprietor of a big business establishment does, to the real estate itself. Of course, this value differs greatly in different places. Where population is dense, as in New York city, the real estate along which the tracks are laid on Broadway may be worth an immense amount for every lineal foot, exactly as the real estate fronting this portion of Broadway is worth an immense amount for every lineal foot. In sparsely settled districts, however, the value of the real estate of the rail