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provisions of the South Carolina and Alabama constitutions of 1868, and the Texas constitution of 1869, which put the popular vote between the decisions of the two legislatures. Of course, the question comes before the second legislature only when the propositions of the former have been adopted by the people. However this method is to be regarded on political grounds, it is nevertheless difficult to make it accord with the principle of popular sovereignty. Several constitutions leave to legislation the task of providing for the details as to when and how the proposed amendments are to be submitted to the decision of the people. A defeated proposal, according to several constitutions, cannot be renewed for a certain time. An amendment of the Vermont constitution, adopted in 1870, grants exclusively to the senate the initiative as to proposed amendments; even the senate can use the privilege only every tenth year; two-thirds of its members must be in favor of the proposal, while in the house of representatives a simple majority suffices; in the next legislature, which must vote upon the proposal, only a majority in each house is required. The constitution of Delaware is entirely isolated in requiring, after the proposal of amendments by the legislature, their approval by the governor.
$ 96. The Tax SYSTEM. (A) General direct property taxes. Numerous and self-evident as the differences in the tax-systems of the states are in detail, there is nevertheless a sufficient agreement in principle to make a general characterization of them possible. In the discussion of the like provisions of the federal constitution, it was shown that the right of taxation of the federal government and of the several states was concurrent, that is, they can levy taxes upon the same objects. Independent of particulars already cited and of no substantial material importance, such as the public property, the administration of justice, the salaries of officials, etc., the only exception to this rule, unfavorable to the states, is imported goods. As the federal government alone regulates foreign commerce, so it alone can collect duties on imports. This one exception, however, marks a distinction of taxation between the Union and the separate states which may almost be designated as a radical one. The federal government bas always met its financial needs mainly by duties. In comparison with them, the only important taxes in ordinary times are those on tobacco and intoxicating liquors (whisky). Land sales, indeed, in the course of years, have brought in considerable sums, and also in the domain of internal revenue the Union has opened many more sources of income. But its financial system is characterized as to rerenue by these three factors and particularly in fact by the duties. Direct taxes have been levied by the federal government only in exceptional cases. The backbone of the financial administration of the separate states, on the other hand, is direct taxation, to which personal and real property is liable. The general taxes are based on assessments made by assessors or appraisers. Some constitutions fix a time after which all personal property must be newly assessed, but this, as a rule, is left to legislation. Several constitutions also contain the provision that the valuation or assessment must correspond with the selling-price. As a rule, however, it is, as a matter of fact, lower. The assessment returns therefore do not present an entirely correct portraiture of the actual prosperity of the people. If the entire Union is taken into view, this is manifestly impossible, because by
1 Alabama in 1875, and Texas in 1876, each adopted a new constitution. Both of these constitutions allow amendments by the vote of one legislature and ratification at the polls.
law or custom the valuations in the different states are made according to a more or less varying standard, quite independent of the fact that in spite of the express command of the constitutions, even with the best intentions, a perfectly uniform assessment cannot be made. The rates at which the different sorts of property are taxed as well as the methods of taxation vary in manifold ways, and change even in the same state. The constitutions generally limit themselves to the establishment of the principle that taxation shall be equal. It is, however, expressly stated that all property is taxable, or that all property shall be taxed according to its actual value, or that no kind of property shall be burdened with a higher taxrate than any other kind, etc. Sometimes it is especially provided that all corporations for purposes of gain, as well as all investments of capital in paper securities of every kind, shall be taxed. Some constitutions, however, make property taxable only when it exceeds a certain minimum. This minimum is rather small. On the contrary, no state extends the “homestead” privilege so as to bar the collection of taxes due the state. There
1 The view is still continually met that there is an American homestead law. But in fact the federal law bearing this name relates, as already shown, only to the granting of a homestead of one hundred and sixty acres or less of the federal lands for a small entrance or patent fee. The homestead privilege, on the contrary, is based on state law or on the provisions of the state constitutions. It is therefore very different in the different states and it never has the scope often ascribed to it in Europe. The privilege is, in brief, this: That property, real and personal, up to a certain value is exempt from seizure or execution for certain debts, but only for certain debts. Taxes, purchase-money mortgages, debts for buildings erected on the homestead or other work done on it, are excepted. What a complicated matter this is may be inferred from the fact that the work of S. D. Thompson, A Treatise on Homestead and Exemption Laus. 1878, contains over eight hundred pages. See, also, J. H. Smith, Law of Homesteads and Exemptions, San Francisco, 1875.
are, however, further and more significant exceptions to the general taxation of property. They are obligatory according to some constitutions; others only permit the legislatures to make them. Cemeteries, public school buildings, charitable institutions, buildings exclusively devoted to divine services, and public property exclusively subserving public purposes, are most frequently exempt from taxation. Some constitutions go much further. The exemption is extended to all literary and scientific institutions, to all property serving religious purposes, to all public property, even that of the counties and municipalities, to clothing, furniture, tools, instruments and books up to a certain value, etc.
(B) Capitation tax. The ideal of tax legislation, in all modern civilized states, must be to have each individual bear the public burdens in the exact proportion that his ability to pay taxes bears to the tax-paying ability of the entire population. The realization of this ideal is impossible. It can be approached only by combining different taxes in such a way as to make their defects balance each other. An equal tax, judged from the stand-point of absolute justice, can never be proportionate, because equally valuable property of the same kind is by no means necessarily owned by persons equally able to pay taxes. Legislation, however, cannot from the nature of things take into consideration the particular incidence of taxation on a single piece of property, and the equal taxation of equally valuable property of the same kind is always less inequitable than the levying of an equal direct tax upon all individuals merely as parts of the population. It is only here and there that this point has been given such attention that the levying of such a tax has been unconditionally prohibited. Some constitutions - but a very small number — direct its levy. About half the constitutions do not touch the question at all and give the legislatures full and free play. The rest occupy a middle ground, corresponding with the public opinion or the actual situation of affairs in those states the constitutions of which are silent on the subject. The legislatures are permitted to levy a poll or capitation tax, but it is admitted that in general such a tax is grievous and oppressive, and therefore the right is given very narrow limits. The maximum rate allowable is almost always fixed; and this — considering American monetary conditions — is always a small one, usually $1 or $1.50. The tax is further restricted to male inhabitants or citizens of at least twenty-one years of age. And, finally, the revenue is generally made applicable to prescribed purposes, - in fact, as a rule, exclusively to the public schools, but occasionally also to charitable institutions. This prescription of purposes shows why the tax is regarded as admissible, although its principle is generally condemned. The poorer classes are most interested in a general free common school system, and the less they have to pay direct property taxes, the more equitable, yes, the more desirable, it is that they shall contribute something to the maintenance of these common schools. For it is even more important in democratic free states than in any other to keep alive in the consciousness of every citizen with full political rights, by making him pay some tax, that rights become privileges if not counterpoised by corresponding duties. The weight of these considerations in causing the levy of capitation taxes appears quite clearly where the right of voting is made dependent on the payment of a poll tax.