« ForrigeFortsett »
Opinion of the Court.
provision for equalizing assessments, as between the property which is assessed by the county assessors and that which is assessed by the Railroad Commission and the Board of Valuation and Assessment.
It hardly is open to serious dispute that if the legislature had confided to a single body the determination of the basis of assessment of the real estate and personal property of individuals and non-franchise corporations, on the one hand, and of the tangible and intangible property of public service corporations, on the other, a valuation of property of the latter class on the basis of 75 per cent. of its actual value, while property of the former class was assessed systematically at 52 per cent., or not more than 60 per cent., of its actual value, would be inconsistent with the sections we have quoted from the Kentucky Constitution. For the provision of § 182, permitting the General Assembly to provide by law "how railroads and railroad property shall be assessed, and how taxes thereon shall be collected," relates merely to the mode of assessment and collection, and manifestly does not permit a departure from the requirements of uniform taxation in proportion to value and an identical rate as between corporate and individual property, contained in §§ 171 and 174. The latter section permits the General Assembly to provide for taxation based on income, licenses, or franchises. But, as already stated, at least at the time these suits arose, there was no provision of law for a taxation of franchises in any other sense than that already explained. Marion National Bank v. Burton, 121 Kentucky, 876, 885.
The fact should be emphasized that the Kentucky court of last resort, far from holding that discrimination such as is here complained of is in accord with the constitution and laws of the State, has recognized distinctly that it is not; but has felt constrained to hold that, under circumstances similar to those of the present cases, there is no redress in the courts of the State; and that the constitu
tional provisions for equality and uniformity are capable of being put into execution only through the selection of proper assessing officers. Louisville Railway Co. v. Commonwealth, 105 Kentucky, 710, 719. This, while admitting the wrong, merely denies judicial relief, and is not binding upon the federal courts.
In Cummings v. National Bank, 101 U. S. 153, the bank brought its bill in equity in a circuit court of the United States to enjoin the collection of a tax assessed against the shares of its stockholders, not because of inconsistency with the act of Congress relating to the taxation of such shares (5219, Rev. Stats.), but upon the ground of a violation of the constitution and laws of the State of Ohio, which required the taxation of all moneys, credits, and investments, and also all real and personal property, to be by a uniform rule and according to its true value in money. The Supreme Court of the State (Exchange Bank of Columbus v. Hines, 3 Ohio St. 1, 15) had held that they required uniformity not only in the rate of taxation but also in the mode of the assessment upon the taxable valuation. But the legislature had adopted a system of valuation under which there were different bodies acting independently of one another in regard to different classes of property in the process of estimating values for taxation, with one board of equalization having charge of the valuation of the real estate of the whole State once in every ten years, another having charge of the valuation of railroad property every year, a third of the valuation of shares of incorporated banks every year, but with no common superior to secure equalization as between the different classes of property. The evidence showed that in the county where complainant's bank was situate the assessors of real property, the assessors of personal property, and the county auditor (who was the assessing officer for bank shares) concurred in establishing a rule of valuation by which real and personal property, except money, were
assessed at one-third of actual values, and money or invested capital at six-tenths of its value; that this rule was followed; and that for the year in question the state board of equalization increased the assessment upon the bank shares to their full cash value. This court held (p. 157) that "when a rule or system of valuation is adopted by those whose duty it is to make the assessment, which is designed to operate unequally and to violate a fundamental principle of the (state) constitution, and when this rule is applied not solely to one individual, but to a large class of individuals or corporations, [that] equity may properly interfere to restrain the operation of this unconstitutional exercise of power"; and that this being the case made by the bill, and being supported by the evidence, while the statute could not be declared unconstitutional, the discriminatory rule must be held void and the injustice produced under it remedied so far as the judicial power could give remedy.
(5) Is discriminatory taxation, contravening the express requirements of the state constitution, beyond redress in the courts of the United States, their jurisdiction being properly invoked, when the discrimination results from divergent action by different assessing boards whose assessments are not subject to any process of equalization established by the State, and where the diverse results are the outcome, not, indeed, of any express agreement among the officials concerned, but of intentional, systematic, and persistent undervaluation by one body of officials, presumably known to and ignored by the other body, so that in effect the two bodies act in concert? In our opinion, the answer must be in the negative.
Appellants' contention that there is no remedy by injunction against the assessments imposed by the Board of Valuation and Assessment places undue emphasis upon the requirement contained in § 172 of the constitution, that all property shall be assessed for taxation at its fair
cash value, estimated at the price it would bring at a fair voluntary sale,-a provision that is repeated in § 4020, Ky. Stats., which deals with the duties of assessing officers. The averments of the bills of complaint, admitted on this record, are that the Board did not assess the property of plaintiffs at fair cash value, but at 75 per cent. thereof, and that this resulted in unequal taxation only because the county assessments were at a still lower percentage. But, laying this aside, and assuming for the moment that the Board performed its duty strictly in accordance with § 172, by assessing plaintiffs' properties at fair cash value, what is the effect of that action, in view of the systematic undervaluations by the assessing officers charged with valuing other classes of property? This question cannot be answered without considering the relation of § 172 to §§ 171 and 174, which require uniform taxation according to value, and an identical rate as between corporate and individual property: The operation and effect of such a taxing system, both in respect to raising the necessary moneys and in distributing the burden among the taxpayers, depend upon two considerations: first, the rate of taxation, and, secondly, the basis of valuation of the property to be taxed. Plainly, the provision of § 174 that "all corporate property shall pay the same rate of taxation paid by individual property" means that not only the percentage of the rate, but the basis of the valuation shall be the same. "Taxing by a uniform rule requires uniformity not only in the rate of taxation, but also uniformity in the mode of the assessment upon the taxable valuation. Uniformity in taxing implies equality in the burden of taxation, and this equality of burden cannot exist without uniformity in the mode of the assessment, as well as in the rate of taxation." Exchange Bank of Columbus v. Hines, 3 Ohio St. 1, 15, quoted in Cummings v. National Bank, 101 U. S. 153, 158.
It is equally plain that it makes no difference what basis
of valuation—that is, what percentage of full valuemay be adopted, provided it be applied to all alike. The adoption of full value has no different effect in distributing the burden than would be gained by adopting 75 per cent., or 50 per cent., or even 10 per cent., as the basis—so long as either was applied uniformly. The only difference would be that, supposing the requirements of the treasury remained constant, the rate of taxation would have to be increased as the percentage of valuation was reduced. (Under § 171 of the constitution, the rate of taxation may be varied by the General Assembly from year to year, according to requirements.) Therefore, the principal if not the sole reason for adopting "fair cash value" as the standard for valuations, is as a convenient means to an end-the end being equal taxation. But if the standard be systematically departed from with respect to certain classes of property, while applied as to other property, it does not serve but frustrates the very object it was designed to accomplish. It follows that the duty to assess at full value cannot be supreme in all cases, but must yield where necessary to avoid defeating its own purpose.
A substantially identical question was presented to the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Taylor v. Louisville & Nashville R. R. Co., 88 Fed. Rep. 350, where the Constitution of Tennessee declared that all property should be taxed according to its value, to be ascertained as the legislature should direct, "so that taxes shall be equal and uniform throughout the State," and the statutes required that the real value of the property be adopted, and where, as here, railroad property and
1 A few of the States have enacted laws adopting percentages of full value as bases of taxation: Iowa, 25 per cent. (Code Supp. 1907, § 1305); Illinois, 20 per cent. (Hurd's Stat. 1898, p. 1365, e), afterwards 33 per cent. (Hurd's Stat. 1909, p. 1882, § 312; Hurd's Stat. 1912, p. 1963, § 312); Nebraska, 20 per cent. (Rev. Stats. 1913, § 6300); Alabama, 60 per cent. (Gen. Acts 1915, p. 393, § 9).