Εικόνες σελίδας
PDF
Ηλεκτρ. έκδοση

reference to any common ratio, and without requiring the [* 502] sum * paid by one piece or kind of property, or by one

person, to bear any relation whatever to that paid by another, is, it seems to me, to lay a forced contribution, not a tax, duty, or impost, within the sense of these terms, as applied to the exercise of powers by any enlightened or responsible government."

In the case of Knowlton v. Supervisors of Rock County,' an important and interesting question arose, involving the very point now under discussion. The Constitution of Wisconsin provides that “the rule of taxation shall be uniform,” which, if we are correct in what we have already stated, is no more than an affirmance of a settled principle of constitutional law. The city of Janesville included within its territorial limits, not only the land embraced within the recorded plat of the village of Janesville and its additions, but also a large quantity of the adjacent farming or agricultural lands. Conceiving the owners of these lands too greatly and unequally burdened by taxation for the support of the city government, the legislature passed an act declaring that "in no case shall the real and personal property within the territorial limits of said city, and not included within the territorial limits of the recorded plat of the village of Janesville, or of any additions to said village, which may be used, occupied, or reserved for agricultural or horticultural purposes, be subject to an annual tax to defray the current expenses of said city, exceeding one-half of one per cent, nor for the repair and building of roads and bridges, and the support of the poor, more than one-half as much on each dollar's valuation shall be levied for such purposes as on the property within such recorded plats, nor shall the same be subject to any tax for any of the purposes mentioned in § 3 of c. 5 of [the city charter), nor shall the said farming or gardening lands be subject to any tax, other than before mentioned, for any city purpose whatever.” Under the charter the property of the city was liable to an annual tax of one per cent to defray the current expenses of the city; and also an additional tax of such sum as the common council might deem necessary for the repair and building of roads and bridges, and for the support of the poor. Thus it will be perceived that the legislature, within the same taxing district,

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

19 Wis. 410.

undertook to provide that a portion of the property should be taxed at one rate in proportion to value, and another portion at a much lower rate; while from taxation for certain proper local purposes the latter class was exempted altogether. *“It was contended in argument,” say the court,“ that [* 503]

[ as those provisions fixed one uniform rate without the recorded plats, and another within them, thus taxing all the property without alike, and all within alike, they do not infringe the Constitution. In other words, that for the purpose of taxation, the legislature have the right arbitrarily to divide up and classify the property of the citizens, and, having done so, they do not violate the constitutional rule of uniformity, provided all the property within a given class is rated alike.

“ The answer to this argument is, that it creates different rules of taxation, to the number of which there is no limit, except that fixed by legislative discretion, while the constitution establishes but one fixed, unbending, uniform rule on the subject. It is believed that if the legislature can, by classification, thus arbitrarily, and without regard to value, discriminate in the same municipal corporation between personal and real property within, and personal and real property without, a recorded plat, they can also by the same means discriminate between lands used for one purpose and those used for another, such as lands used for growing wheat and those used for growing corn, or any other crop; meadow-lands . and pasture-lands, cultivated and uncultivated lands; or they can classify by the description, such as odd-numbered lots and blocks and even numbered ones, or odd and even-numbered sections. Personal property can be classified by its character, use, or description, or, as in the present case, by its location, and thus the rules of taxation may be multiplied to an extent equal in number to the different kinds, uses, descriptions, and locations of real and personal property. We do not see why the system may not be carried further, and the classification be made by the character, trade, profession, or business of the owners. For certainly this rule of uniformity can as well be applied to such a classification as any other, and thus the constitutional provision be saved intact. Such a construction would make the constitution operative only to the extent of prohibiting the legislature from discriminating in favor of particular individuals, and would reduce the people, while considering so grave and important a proposition, to the ridiculous

[ocr errors]

*

attitude of saying to the legislature, “You shall not discriminate between single individuals or corporations; but you may divide the citizens up into different classes, as the followers of different

trades, professions, or kinds of business, or as the owners [* 504] of * different species or descriptions of property, and legis

late for one class, and against another, as much as you please, provided you serve all of the favored or unfavored classes alike;' thus affording a direct and solemn sanction to a system of taxation so manifestly and grossly unjust that it will not find an apologist anywhere, at least outside of those who are the recipients of its favor. We do not believe the framers of that instrument intended such a construction, and therefore cannot adopt it.” 1

The principle to be deduced from the Iowa and Wisconsin cases, assuming that they do not in any degree conflict, seems to be this: The legislature cannot arbitrarily include within the limits of a village, borough, or city, property and persons not properly chargeable with its burdens, and for the sole purpose of increasing the corporate revenues by the exaction of the taxes. But whenever the corporate boundaries are established, it is to be understood that whatever property is included within those limits has been thus included by the legislature, because it justly belongs there, as being within the circuit which is benefited by the local government, and which ought consequently to contribute to its burdens. The legislature cannot, therefore, after having already, by including the property within the corporation, declared its opinion that such property should contribute to the local government, immediately turn about and establish a basis of taxation which assumes that the

1

"Per Dixon, Ch. J., 9 Wis. 421. Besides the other cases referred to, see, on this same general subject, Lin Sing v. Washburn, 20 Cal. 534; State v. Merchants Ins. Co., 12 La An. 802; Adams v. Somerville, 2 Head, 363; McComb v. Bell, 2 Minn. 295; Attorney-General v. Winnebago Lake and Fox River P. R. Co., 11 Wis. 35; Weeks v. Milwaukee, 10 Wis. 242; O'Kane v. Treat, 25 III. 557; Philadelphia Association, &c. v. Wood, 39 Penn. 73; Sacramento v. Crocker, 16 Cal. 119. There was a provision in the charter of Covington that a street might be paved with the Nicholson pavement at the expense of the adjoining owners, when the owners of the larger part of the frontage should petition therefor. An amendatory act authorized it as to a portion of a certain street without such a petition; thus permitting a special improvement on that street, at the expense of the owners of adjoining lots, on a different principle from that adopted for the city generally. In Howell v. Bristol, 8 Bush, 493, this amendment was held inconsistent with the fundamental principles of taxation, and consequently void.

[ocr errors]

property is not in fact urban property at all, but is agricultural lands, and should be assessed accordingly. The rule of apportionment must be uniform throughout the taxing district, applicable to all alike; but the legislature have no power to arrange the taxing districts arbitrarily, and without reference to the great fundamental principle of taxation, that the burden must be borne by those upon whom it justly rests. The Kentucky and Iowa decisions hold that, in a case where they have manifestly and unmistakably done so, the courts may interfere and restrain the imposition of municipal burdens on property which does not properly belong within the municipal taxing district at all.

* This rule of uniformity has perhaps been found most [* 505] difficult of application in regard to those cases of taxation which are commonly known under the head of assessments, and which are made either for local improvement and repair, or to prevent local causes resulting in the destruction of health or property. In those cases where it has been held that such assessments were not covered by the constitutional provision that taxation should be laid upon property in proportion to value, it has, nevertheless, been decided that the authority to make them must be referred to the taxing power, and not to the police power of the State, under which sidewalks have sometimes been ordered to be constructed. Apportionment of the burden was therefore essential, though it need not be made upon property in proportion to its value. But the question then arises : What shall be the rule of apportionment? Can a street be ordered graded and paved, and the expense assessed exclusively upon the property which, in the opinion of the assessors, shall be peculiarly benefited thereby, in proportion to such benefit? Or may a taxing district be created for the purpose, and the expense assessed in proportion to the area of the lots ? Or may the street be made a taxing district, and the cost levied in proportion to the frontage? Or may each lot owner be required to grade and pave in front of his lot? These are grave questions, and they have not been found of easy solution.

The case of The People v. The Mayor, &c., of Brooklyn,' is a leading case, holding that a statute authorizing a municipal corporation to grade and improve streets, and to assess the expense among the owners and occupants of lands benefited by the improvement, in

а

14 N. Y. 410; reversing samne case, 6 Barb. 209.

proportion to the amount of such benefit, is a constitutional and valid law. The court in that case concede that taxation cannot be laid without apportionment, but hold that the basis of apportionment in these cases is left by the constitution with the legislature. The application of any one rule or principle of apportionment to all cases would be manifestly oppressive and unjust. Taxation is sometimes regulated by one principle, and sometimes by another; and very often it has been apportioned without reference to locality, or to the tax-payer's ability to contribute, or to any proportion between the burden and the benefit. “The excise laws, and taxes

on carriages and watches, are among the many examples [* 506] of * this description of taxation. Some taxes affect classes

of inhabitants only. All duties on imported goods are taxes on the class of consumers. The tax on one imported article falls on a large class of consumers, while the tax on another affects comparatively a few individuals. The duty on one article consumed by one class of inhabitants is twenty per cent of its value, while on another, consumed by a different class, it is forty per cent. The duty on one foreign commodity is laid for the purpose of revenue mainly, without reference to the ability of its consumers to pay, as in the case of the duty on salt. The duty on another is laid for the purpose of encouraging domestic manufacture of the same article, thus compelling the consumer to pay a higher price to one man than he could otherwise have bought the article for from another. These discriminations may be impolitic, and in some cases unjust; but if the power of taxation upon importations had not been transferred by the people of this State to the Federal government, there could have been no pretence for declaring them to be unconstitutional in State legislation.

“ A property tax for the general purposes of the government, either of the State at large or of a county, city, or other district, is regarded as a just and equitable tax. The reason is obvious. It apportions the burden according to the benefit more nearly than any other inflexible rule of general taxation. A rich man derives more benefit from taxation, in the protection and improvement of his property, than a poor man, and ought therefore to pay more. But the amount of each man's benefit in general taxation cannot be ascertained and estimated with any degree of certainty ; and for that reason a property tax is adopted, instead of an estimate of benefits. In local taxation, however, for special purposes, the

« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »