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value of the property not taxed in Ohio bears to the value of the entire corporate property. Furthermore, the bill defined the "true value in money" of personal property as its " value for the purpose of sale, income or use," and particularly provides that "a mercantile, manufacturing or other plant, or any business of any kind . . . shall be listed and valued as a going concern." 1
Several provisions of the bill looked to the strengthening of the powers of assessing officials in the discovery of taxable property. The powers of county auditors in attempting to discover concealed property had long been inquisitorial in a high degree; 2 the chief innovation in the proposed bill consisted in giving to the assessor, rather than to the assessed, the privilege and duty of placing the valuation on the property listed. The effect of this would be to place upon the tax-payer the burden of showing that the assessor's valuation was incorrect; whereas the burden now lies with the state to overthrow the tax-payer's valuation.3
The legislature of 1913 was strongly Democratic, and the administration had pledged itself to a large legislative program; so that it was altogether unlikely that so comprehensive and important a bill could be passed without active administrative support. The strength
1 Altho this provision was not enacted into law, the tax commission, under its new power to prescribe rules and regulations, attempted to put it into effect, but was prevented from so doing, in the case of general business corporations, by a decision of the court holding that the law does not justify the making of any distinction between the assessment of the personal property of an individual and a corporation, except such as may be engaged in operating public utilities.
2 It was under these powers that the practice of employing private inquisitors grew up and was later authorized by formal enactment. See Carver," The Tax Inquisitor System in Ohio," Economic Studies, vol. iii, pp. 167–212 (1898); also Bogart, Financial History of Ohio, pp. 219, 239–242.
There may seem to be some doubt as to the accuracy of this statement in view of the language of the act of 1913, which provides that the assessor shall "list and value " property for taxation. But the sections governing the listing and valuing of property were not changed by that act, and the tax commission seems to have considered their change essential to its plan. See Recommendations, pp. 57, 58.
of the opposition to various features of the bill, as well as their intrinsic unsatisfactoriness, led the administration to withhold its support, altho it favored a bill revising the administrative machinery of the tax system and intimated that a more thoro going revision of the methods of taxation might be undertaken at a special session of the legislature, to be convened in 1914.
In the legislative session of 1911, there had been introduced a bill providing for a system of appointive county assessors,1 which failed of passage through disagreement between House and Senate as to the appointive power. This bill was the pattern for the administrative sections of the commission's bill, which were now redrafted and after some amendments became the so-called Warnes law of May 6, 1913.2
The act constitutes each county in the state an assessment district, and provides that the governor shall appoint an assessor in each of the smaller districts and a board of two assessors in each district which contained at least 65,000 inhabitants at the last preceding federal census.3 The assessor's tenure of office is indefinite. In each district there is created a board of complaints, having three members appointed by the tax commission with the consent of the governor for overlapping terms of three years. Both assessors and members of boards of complaints are removable by the tax commission with the consent of the governor. These officers are not within the classified civil service, being appointed by, or with the consent of, the governor; but all their subordinates are under civil service rules.
1 H. B. 395, by Mr. Edwards. Similar measures had been recommended by Governor Foraker in his messages of April 6, 1886, and January 4, 1887, and by the special commission of 1893. See Report, pp. 45, 46, 71-77.
2 103 Ohio Laws, 786.
There are fourteen such counties in a total of eighty-eight.
Section 8 of the Civil Service Act, 103 Ohio Laws, 698. The act does not make entirely clear the position of members of boards of complaints, but it has been construed
The powers of these officers are comprehended in the statement that they shall, "under the direction and supervision of the tax commission," assess for taxation all real and personal property in their respective districts, except the property of public utilities, which is assessed by the tax commission. The powers of the former elective assessors, appointive city boards of review, and ex-officio county boards of review and equalization, and the powers of county auditors in the assessment of property, are transferred by blanket provisions to the newly created district assessors and boards of complaint.
The authority of the tax commission is seen not only in the general provision that it shall "direct and supervise" the assessment of real and personal property, but in various detailed provisions defining and explaining that authority. The commission is empowered to prescribe forms and to make and enforce rules and regulations for the assessment and valuation of property for taxation. The salaries of assessors and members of boards of complaints are to be fixed within specified limits by the commission with the consent of the governor. The number and terms of service of all subordinates and employees of assessors and boards of complaints are to be fixed by the commission, which has also the power of approval of the salaries of such subordinates. The commission fixes the time within which boards of complaints must complete their work.1 Appeals lie from the board of complaints to the tax commission, which may, however, make an independent investigation of the matter in complaint.2 Assessors
as stated in the text by the attorney-general in Opinion No. 899, dated April 29, 1914. See also Opinion No. 661, December 27, 1913.
1 Members are paid on a per diem basis.
The commission has always possessed the power to make changes in the valuations of real or personal property. See 101 Ohio Laws, 399, Section 81.
and boards of complaints are required to perform such other duties as the commission may direct, including attendance at conferences with the commission or with other assessors and members of boards of complaints. The power of the commission as a state board of equalization is extended to the annual equalization of the valuations of both real and personal property,' and to this end the commission may increase or decrease the valuation of the real or personal property, or of any class of either in any taxing district or division of a municipal corporation, or may order a re-assessment of any such property.2
Under the former law, boards of review and equalization might add omitted property and change assessors' valuations on their own motion, and were to that extent boards of original assessment. It was the intention of the Warnes bill to concentrate authority and responsibility; and in harmony with this idea the board of complaints was made strictly what its name implies. But in the haste of the last few days of the session an amendment was offered and accepted which gives the board power to make changes in valuations" upon its own initiative," a power which is entirely inconsistent with the provisions of other sections, and which might operate to impair the quality of the assessor's work through the opportunity thus afforded to throw the responsibility for difficult or unwelcome assessment work forward to the board of complaints. In its instructions to boards of complaints, the tax commission
1 Heretofore the commission has equalized the valuations of real property quadrennially. There has been no state-wide equalization of personal property, except of bank shares and, formerly, of the property of transportation and transmission companies, now assessed by the commission.
These provisions somewhat extend the powers of the commission under the act of 1910. See above, p. 482.
has limited their activities to reviewing complaints; but it is not certain that the courts will sustain this restriction, if brought to their attention.1
The Warnes law, then, creates a body of assessing officials who, by reason of their tenure of office and emancipation from political obligation to the electorate, occupy a unique position in the history of the American general property tax. Moreover, the coördination of the work of the several assessors through the direction of the tax commission serves greatly to enhance the efficiency of assessment. How this was accomplished in 1914 is described by Governor Cox in his message to the legislature convening in extraordinary session July 20 last. He said:
"The state commission was able to secure close coöperation between the district officials in the eighty-eight counties - something impossible except under the centralized authority plan; mortgages were copied and exchanged, lists of taxable securities, with the names and addresses of holders, were distributed, and from this source approximately $100,000,000 of taxable values were secured. There was also an interchange of other useful information. The commission kept in constant touch with the work in the counties; district assessors required daily reports of the work from their deputies; and the district assessors reported weekly to the tax commission. addition, three traveling examiners inspected the work, for the purpose of verifying reports and to give assistance. In this manner the commission was able to secure uniformity in the assessment of the several classes of personal property in the various counties."
If the new law is to be judged by its immediate effect on property valuations, it must be unequivocally approved. As early as midsummer, the unrevised returns of assessors indicated an increase of approximately one billion dollars in the grand duplicate, and on this showing the administration ventured to cut the tax rate for
1 See above, p. 507, note, for a case in which the commission's instructions were overruled.