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This plan would also produce a decrease in the school expenditure. If directors, who are themselves tax payers, and are accountable to the neighbors, who are also tax payers, have it in their power, by strict economy, to diminish the expenditure, and consequently, the taxation of the district, the result will obviously be most beneficial. Under existing laws, the dividend of State appropriation, which is, in all cases, determined by the number of taxables in each district, being the absolute measure of the minim'm of taxation, there exists litile motive for reducing the expenses below the sum which must thus necessarily come into the district treasury. The evil of this feature, in the law, is not at present felt to any great degree, because, the cost of procuring school houses, and making the other preliminary arrangements of the system, generally exceeds the minimum of annual school money ; but, as those preliminary expenses cease, an! the amount of State aid increases, it will become manifest, and must be remedied, or beget a carelessness and extravagance, which will be ruinous to the system.
It will, therefore, soon become manifestly necessary to make the real wants of the systein, and not any arbitrary relative proportion of sums, the measure of school taxation.
The manner of collecting school money requires serious consideration That portion of it, receivable froin the State, is sufficiently well regulated by existing law, and needs no modification. It is not payable until evidere is produced of the assessment of the requisite amount of tax by the distries, and its re tipi and disbursement are so guarded as to create all proper accountability. But, in the manner of collecting school tax, is to be found a main obstacle to the spread of the system, and as the saine defect runs through the whole system of taxation for public purposes, the following remarks will not be confined to the school tax.
The citizen is first called on for his county rate, and until recently, for his Stute tax; then the supervisor demands the road tax ; a short time afterwards, probably a militia fine is to be paid; and finally, when all patience is worn out, the school tax collector comes with his duplicate.The tax payer's opposition to the whole system of taxation is thus pent up and discharged against the school tax, which, because the last imposed, the least understood, and with many, the most unpopular, becomes the favorite theme of complaint, and often of political declamation. It has been known that collectors, opposed to the system, have delayed calling for the tas till the eve of an election, and have then loudly demanded payment, thereby increasing opposition. It has even occured, that county and other tax has been collected under the name of school tax, with an effect upon the system that needs no comment,
Vor is the present system of taxation objectionable alone on account of its unnecessary and vexatious sub-divisions. The inequality of its effects on the differet kinds of property begets opposition and discontent, which operate injuriously throughout, but especially upon the school system.
State iar was levied ou booth real and personal estate; county expenses are most wholly paid by the owners of houses and land, while the posgeswors of money, and most kinds of personal property, contribute nothing : the same is the case with regard to roast and
For school purposes only, a small amount can be levied on personal property, the chief burthep being thrown on real estate, and on trades and occupations.
These unnecessary and unjust distinctions have created, and will create much discontent that might be avoided by a just equalization, and by a simultaneous collection of the whole. All public objects, whether they be the support of Government, or the payment of county expenses—the mending of a road, or the education of youth—the relief of the poor, or the defence of the State, have equal claims upon the citizen, and should be contributed to out of the same purse, and at the same time. The amounts required for each, will, of course, be different, but the distribution of the proper proportions among them should take place after, and not before collection.
As an instance of the unequal effect of the present ill arranged system of taxation, it may be mentioned that when the late State tax was in operation, the county of Allegheny, with four representatives, and containing the rich city of Pittsburg, paid four hundred and seven dollars tax on personal property, while Adams, with only two representatives, paid four hundred and eighty-four dollars. Berks, having an equal valuation of real estate, and an equal representation with Chester, only paid one thousand seven hundred and forty-five dollars personal tax, though the latter paid three thousand and forty-five dollars. York, with three representatives, paid only one thousand two hundred and six dollars. Westmoreland, with as many representatives as York, and fully one half the amount of real estate, only paid one hundred and fifty-six dollars personal tax. Philadelphia city and county, with an immense real estate, and all their costly buildings, only paid double as much real estate tax as the county of Lancaster; while the county of Lancaster, with six representatives, paid as much personal property tax as the fourteen considerable counties of Allegeny, Adams, Bedford, Bradford, Centre, Franklin, Huntingdon, Luzerne, Northumberland, Somerset, Schuylkill, Union, Washington, and Westmoreland, put together, with five times as many representatives, and more than twice her amount of real estate.
This unjust and unequal effect of taxation is wholly attributable to the absence of an uniform mode of ascertaining the amount and value of the property to be taxed. One county, who e first rate land is worth $100 an acre, may value it, for the purposes of county taxation, at that sum; an adjoining county containing land of the same description and value, may estimate it at $50. The result, when a tax is to be collected, is obvious. This practice produces no injustice in the collection of county levies, so long as the rate of appraisement is uniform over the whole county. But when a difference of valuation prevails among the townships of the same county, which is not unusual, the same oppressive inequality is produced, as in the case of State tax.
The trifling amount of the late State tax on personal property proceeded from the ineffectual means provided by law to ascertain its actual amount, and the exemption of many descriptions of it from taxation altogether.
By reference to the accompanying statement of the Auditor General, on this subject, the amount of real and personal valuation and taxation in each county and in the whole State for 1835, will be seen, and the unequal operation of the present system at once perceived.
That statement will show that a tax of one mill on the dollar, even under she present defective system, produced for State use, near two hundred and
fifty thousand dollars from real estate, and about fifty thousand dollars from the kinds of personal property assessed annually.
It must be obvious to every one who will think for a moment on the subject, that a fair valuation of all the personal property and productiveness of the Commonwealth, other than real estate, would at least quadruple the amount of personal property tax at the above rate.
This single and just operation, without counting any thing from the more equal assessment of real estate, which would undoubtedly produce much, would yield two hundred thousand dollars annually; a sum sufficient, with the proposed increase of State appropriation, to support the Common School system.
There is no reason why property in one part of the State or of a county, should be liable to contribute a greater portion of means to the public use than the same kind of property in another. Neither should one kind of property be exempt while another is taxed. The old feudal distinctions between personal and real estate have little force in this country. The one is, so far as ownership and liability are concerned, nearly as transitive and as tangible as the other. The amount of real is little greater than that of personal estate, if fully and fairly accounted, and certainly, at the present time, much less productive to the possessor. In former days, when the quantity of personal property was so trifling that it was abandoned to the church for pious uses on the death of the owner, or was subject to a contribution during his life, of a fifth, a seventh, a tenth for the support of Government, it was perhaps not so strange that the laws of the land should take little notice of it, either for its protection or transmission to the representatives of the deceased owner. But now, when it was vastly increased in amount, and forms a chief source of profit to the community -when courts are much occupied in its regulation, and Governments largely employed in its protection, it does seem strange that it should enjoy to any extent whatever, an exemption from the common burthens.
On examining the statute book it will be found that the chief tax, as such, for public use, paid by personal property, is that of one mill to the dollar for school purposes, assessed on the articles enumerated in the act of 25th March, 1831, and continued by act of 13th June, 1836. Tax on bank dividends is not properly a contribution for the support of Government, but a part of the price paid for the privilege of exercising one of the prerogatives of Government. In the same manner, the money paid for tavern licenses is not a tax, in the ordinary acceptation of the term, but a means to diminish dealing in strong drink; and the price imposed on the dealing in foreign merchandise, may be inost fairly called an expedient to protect and promote domestic manufactures.
In this view of the unequal bearing of the present system of taxation, the proper remedy seems to be a Constitutional provision, that all the property and productive industry and skill of the Commonwealth, of every kind, shall be fairly and uniformly appraised at its full value ; and that all tax nou or hereafter necessary for every department of the public operations, shall be fairly and uniformly assessed on the whole thereof; and shall be collected from each tar payer at one time and by one colleclor.
The proposition to make the productive industry and skill of the Commonwealth bear a portion of the public burthens, is not new in Pennsylva
nia. “ Offices and posts of profit, professions, trades and occupations", have long been taxable. The object yet to be accomplished is merely to estimate them according to their just value and usefulness to those who exercise them and to society, and to assess upon them a full and fair portion of contribution to the use of that public from which alone they derive their profitable value. The effect would not be an increase of the tax now paid by the small mechanic, the house-holder, or the single freeman, but a more just assessment upon the lucrative professions and occupations.
These latter should be estimated at their full value, and assessed accordingly, both because the protection of the rights of the persons who exercise them costs as much to Government as that of the estates real and personal of the rest of society ; and because the value of skill and industry is more increased by that protection, and by the operation of the social compact, than the land of the farmer, or the gold of the capitalist. No matter how the affairs of Government or the obligations of law may be deranged, the holder of money can generally supply himself with the necessaries of life, and the producer can dispose of them, for men must have food and be clad through all changes. But the destruction of law terminates the vocation of the lawyer, anarchy and confusion injure the profitable profession of every branch of science, and annihilates a demand for the services of the artist. With the protecting power of Government, cease the emoluments of all employed in administering its various duties and offices ; and when the reign of order and mutual good faith ends, it is the inevitable destruction of that confidence on which the meretorious merchant, whose honest name enabled him to deal on the capital of others, rested for support and success.
The process by which this necessary and equitable equalization of taxation may be effected, is extremely simple and easy. Let the commissioners of each county, through the proper assessors, periodically make a valuation, at its full and real value, of all the property and productiveness of the county. Let this be the basis of all taxation. Let a certain per centage be levied upon it for county purposes, or for State use, if such tax or any other should hereafter become requisite. In the same way let the necessary per centage be levied upon it in each township, by the school directors and the road overseers, and when the whole amount required is thus determined, let it be collected at one time and by one officer; and finally, when thus collected, then let the proceeds be distributed in their proper proportions to the different objects.
The advantages of such an arrangement would be great.
1. Opposition to taxation would decrease. That spirit is not so much produced by the amount of money exacted, as by the harrassing and continual calls of tax collectors of different kinds.
2. Dissatisfaction at the unequal operation of the present system would be entirely obviated.
3. Expense, inconvenience, and risk of loss in collection would be greatly diminished.
4. The benefit to the school system, in the removal of opposition, would be invaluable. Being the youngest born of the unpopular family of taxes, the school tax is likely to suffer for all the sins of the elder branches. Any plan which will render them ļess unacceptable will diminish the weight of
PENNSYLVANIA CONVENTION, 1837.
odium which bears upon it, and will have a corresponding good effect on the system.
5. And finally, a most beneficial result would be the collection of the school tax without any increase of the bu rthens now borne by the farmer and mechanic. For, if fairly valued, and assessed to no greater extent than real estate for county and township uses, the personal property now in the Commonwealth would, beyond a doubt, yield an amount of tax equal to all the wants of the schools. Thus, the more just equalization of taxation would produce a result of no less magnitude and benefit, than that of the permanent and equitable support of the common school system.
If it be trne that no subject possesses greater public interest than that of general and sound education ; and if it be also true that one of the chief obstacles to the spread of the common school system, is to be found in the present defective plan of taxation, as has been attempted to be shown in the foregoing remarks; then the undersigned will perhaps not be without excuse for having intruded so long on the time of the Convention. All which is respectfully submited,
THO. H. BURROWES,
Secretary of the Commonwealth. SECRETARY'S OFFICE, JUNE 20, 1837.
STATEMENT OF THE COMMON SCHOOL FUND.
Amount transfered to the fund, 1st April, 1832, $75,342 37
$79,109 49 Amount transfered to the fund, 1st April, 1833, 203,332 16 Interest on the whole, one year,
Fund, 31st March, 1834,
296,563 73 287,346 89 29,195 53
Fund, 31st March, 1835,
613,106 15 Amount transfered to the fund, 1st April, 1835, 247,050 22 Interest on the whole, one year,
Fund, 31st March, 1836,
903,184 19 Amount transfered to the fund, 1st April, 1836, 287,926 94 Interest on the whole, one year,
Fund, 31st March, 1837,