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terest account. And so far as observation goes up to this time, a sinking fund sufficient to meet bonded obligations upon their maturity in any city, precinct, or county has never yet been formed. On the contrary, new bonds are issued when old ones fall due, and the cancerous taxation is thus perpetuated from year to year and sinking funds made a chronic, hereditary burden and taint, seemingly, for all time to come.
Aside from subsidy taxes which are common to nearly all the counties, there are generally extravagant county current expenses. The county of Otoe is eighteen miles wide and thirtysix miles long, and the annual levy upon its real and personal property is for the purpose of raising somewhere between $90,000 and $100,000. The larger sum oftener than the lesser sum is the tribute wrung during each year from the people and property of that county, which contains, in round numbers, 400,000 acres of land. Bridges, road improvements, court expenses, and various other disbursements are, as a rule, unnecessarily of a recklessly extravagant character. Under an ancient statute, the County Agricultural Society draws $500 each year to encourage it more as a horse show and racing institution than anything else, just as though all ought to be taxed for the pleasure and amusement of the few who make up the county society and enjoy the races, the betting, and the excitement thereunto appertaining. Among abuses in the courts of justice, none is more palpable and obvious than the custom which some judges have of lucratively appointing clientless attorneys to defend attorneyless criminals, who, with vaulting alacrity, are so often ready to swear to their own impecuniosity. The sums sometimes paid the aforesaid callow pleaders amount to the fees paid in similar cases to the best lawyers. These fees, fixed by a kind and generous judge, come out of a popular pocket. It is suggested that each county should elect and salary a public defender as well as a public prosecutor. It would prove a cheaper system than the present one, and de: prive the courts of a baleful patronage.
From an experience as a taxpayer in Otoe county that now reaches out towards half a century, I must frankly say that the
cost of government in that particular county is far more than it ought to be, and that the character of government has not improved proportionally with the increase of its taxation. On the other hand, conscientiously I aver that from 1855 to 1865 we had, as a rule, a better and more economical administration of county affairs than we have had since that date.
Otoe county has, in round numbers, a population of 33,000. And yet its annual appropriation to meet the demands of its county commissioners, which hold to it the same relation that the legislative assembly did to the territory of Nebraska, is some thing like $100,000; while the territory of Nebraska's legislative expenses were annually less than $20,000, and provided legislation for more than 100,000 people who scatteringly inhabited an area of 75,000 square miles.
The excessive cost of local governments and the consequent high rate of taxation which it imposes, repels from some of the best portions of our commonwealth the highest character of thrifty and intelligent immigration and the most desirable capital and enterprise.
Cass county makes a better showing for inexpensive local government than any of the older counties of the territory and state, as her annual levy has averaged only 1 per cent. from 1865 to 1895, and in the latter year is only a little over 1 cent on the dollar.
Douglas county has averaged over 14 mills on the dollar during the same thirty years. But Washington county, which began with 147 mills in 1865, has now a tax of 235 mills, and makes an average of annual taxation for thirty years of 21.494 mills.
Burt county began with 10 mills on the dollar in 1865 and closes with 14.4 mills in 1895, making an average of 12.294, including and between the two dates.
In 1865 Dakota county had a tax of 13 mills, and in 1895 of 19 mills on the dollar's valuation, and shows an annual average during thirty years of 204 mills.
Throughout the state, during the "boom" period, and for the purpose of continuing an artificial energy of development in
most of the larger cities, the fallacy of making public improvements, merely for the alleged purpose of giving employment to the idle, quite largely prevailed. Many big sewers which were unnecessary, and miles of expensive pavements in streets which needed no pavement at all, have been levied for, with the avowed purpose of raising funds with which to employ idle muscle. It has been deemed a duty of government by a majority of the voters in many localities to furnish compensating employment to all seeking it. Following out this economic fallacy, those who have been temperate, industrious, self-denying, and acquisitive have been compelled, by the power to tax, to furnish the means of livelihood to those who have been largely during their whole lives intemperate, improvident, and indolent. Paved streets-vehicleless, trafficless, and almost peopleless—running out from Lincoln, from Omaha, and from other metropolitan points towards impossible additions, attest the futility and folly of such expenditures. The transitory and almost vagrant population in behalf of which such alleged public works were undertaken left each one of those towns so soon as the artificial excitement and unnecessary expenditure of public moneys subsided, or, by force of depleted exchequers, finally came to an end.
It is not the business of governments to furnish employment to citizens. But it is their business to protect the lives, liberties, and properties of citizens within the areas which they cover. Having afforded this protection, they may righteously tax for the service thus rendered, and a tax for any other than such a public purpose is licensed larceny.
The question arises now: How shall the good people in the various precincts, cities, and counties of the commonwealth of Nebraska hereafter avoid unnecessary extravagance and burdensome taxation in local government?
This is a very serious problem. It must be answered, therefore, with careful, thoughtful deliberation. There is one abso lutely certain method of correcting the evil of extravagant administration in local affairs, and that is, to recognize, respect, and exalt individual merit and personal worth in selecting public
servants. Eulogize good character and denounce bad; choose for official places only those citizens who are peculiarly qualified, fitted, and adapted to those places. The best method to accomplish the selection of that class of citizens, and thereby put a premium upon acknowledged ability and clean character, is to repeal every statute in the state of Nebraska which requires any officer to give bonds for the faithful performance of his duty or for the proper care of public funds.
The theory of democratic government is that a majority of the people are always right, and, therefore, perfectly competent to govern themselves. In fact, this government is one of committees. In the county of Lancaster the whole people desire a treasurer, a sheriff, a county judge, and county commissioners, together with a county clerk. By a vote of the whole these offcers are selected, as a mere committee, to attend to business which the people in their primary capacity cannot look after. To these officers are committed all the functions appertaining to their respective places. They have been chosen by a majority of the legal voters. If any one of them is inefficient or dishonest, those who elected them should suffer the consequences. The whole community should be bondsmen for the electees of the majority. The community should not plead the “baby act,” and after, by a majority of ten to one, having elected A. B. treasurer, ask eight, ten, or a dozen good citizens who, by thrift, temperance, industry, and frugality, have acquired competencies, to come forward and sign a bond by which they shall risk all their lives' earnings (which, by natural rights, in part belong to their wives and children) in order to indemnify the community against loss by its own choice of an officer.
Up to date, the bond-giving system, which is contrary to a democratic form of government, has resulted, as a rule, in fruitless litigation when bondsmen have been sued.
That which is true as to the non-bonding of county and city officers is likewise true of the bonded state officials in Nebraska. The state treasurer of this commonwealth is required to give a bond in the sum of something like a million of dollars. That is
to say, two hundred thousand voters, having advocated or permitted the election of a citizen to the responsible position of state treasurer, then ask that they may be protected from their own selectee and guaranteed that he will not rob those who have chosen him to take care of the public funds. The best type of citizenship is then asked to jeopardize its earnings and the education and happiness of its households to protect a majestic majority from the possible consequences of its own votes.
Events too recent in the state are ample in potency to prove the fallacy of the bond-giving system when it comes to state treasurers. It, too, results only in litigation and loss.
But let the laws requiring these official bonds be repealed, so that neither' city, county, nor state officers—whether they handle money or perform other duties—can be required to give any financial guaranty as to their capability, efficiency, or honesty. When these laws shall have been repealed, who will dare say that the republican party, the democratic party, the populist party, or the prohibition party of this state will nominate in any city or county a treasurer, or name for a state treasurer, a man whose character for ability as an accountant and for honesty and sobriety as a citizen is not above and beyond reproach? The repeal of these laws, which have in practice been almost a complete failure, would put a premium upon ability and hon esty in public life. No political organization would dare name for public place a man intellectually or morally disqualified for the performance of the duties which that position demands. There would be no further pleading of the “baby act” by vast majorities. The whole people would soon understand and fully realize that whenever a dishonest or inefficient official was elected, they themselves were his sureties. The vote of every property holder would then be given after due reflection as to the probabilities of the candidate being able to satisfactorily do the work of the office sought. No longer would men be named for county treasurers simply because small bankers fur nished bonds for them, in consideration of their furnishing back the small bankers deposits of public funds out of which petty