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real estate be worth in Sodom ?” That is, low much of anything worth having would there be if it had not been for religion, I say: Thank God for religion! But does anyone seriously suppose that religion would fall, upon the imposition of the tax list. We have grown accustomed to the cry of those who liken us to Sodom and Gomorrah. The defenders of church and state have used the cry before, yet we have dislocated church and state, and both are benefited thereby. Why should we be afraid to do justice. Justice is the foundation of God's throne; let us not fear to make it the foundation of the tax levy. And if the churchgoer complains that he has to pay a trifle more to his church each year because of the taxes, let him ask, whether, as long as he is content to do so much for the dissemination of doctrine and the comfort of his pew, he is not also ready to pay a trifle more, over and above these necessities, for eternal justice ?
The fact is, friends, the whole tax question is one of honor, and who will not be ready to do wbat honor requires when he is once shown the way?
Instruct your legislators to repeal all obstructions to an equal and just taxation, and be ready yourselves to pay to the state, from which you receive so much, the support which is both wise
Hiram Smith - In our agricultural papers, most of us unfortunately drop something that is very objectionable to others; but in the paper we have just heard, I think there are but few that can object to anything that has been said.
Mr. Field -- If any argument were needed why church property, and all other property in the state, should be taxed equally and uniformly, I think that we have heard that argument tonight. We have heard those reasons given in the paper which has just been read before us. I bave always believed, sir, that there was no reason for the exemption of any property whatever, except state and national. I have believed that churches, school houses, and all other property that receives protection from the state, should be taxed, and help pay its proportion of the burdens of government. I have never heard, however, a clearer argument.
I have never heard so clear an argument in favor of universal taxation as I have listened to here this evening. It has pleased me much. I trust it has made an impression upon every member of this joint convention, and that we may pass a resolution unanimously, requesting the legislature now in session to enact such a law as to make the burdens of taxation equal in this state.
The gentleman spoke of railway corporations. Now, sir, I see no reason why all of these corporations should not be taxed in the same way that private individuals are taxed. I do not say that I would have them taxed in every town or every county through which these roads pass, as a railway is not a railway in a town or a county. It is a railway as an entirety. It is a railway only as it passes through the state of Wisconsin, and from here or Chicago to the state of New York. But it may be taxed in the state in the same manner that property is taxed in a town or a county, and pay its just proportion according to what it is worth.
. I can. not see any injustice that would arise in letting the tax be paid into the state treasury for the benefit of the entire state.
Mr. Adams - I desire to offer a resolution, which I have drawn hastily:
" Resolved, That it is the sense of this convention that the statutes of Wisconsin, relating to taxation, should be so amended as to require that church property, life insurance companies, and public and private charities, should be taxed in accordance with the provision of the constitution requiring that taxation should be uniform."
Mr. Main — I am glad to hear this subject of taxation discussed; for, if there is any subject that needs it in Wisconsin, that is one.
Our personal property, city and village lots, and real estate in this state, is assessed at $106,000,000. On that a tax is levied of nearly $8,000,000. Our railroads are represented by bonds amounting to $205,000,000. On that there is a net profit of nearly $13,000,000 — about six and two-tenths per cent, and those railroads pay less than one twentieth of what the real estate, personal property, city and village lots, in this state, pay. From an investment which does not net us one half of what railroad stockholders get, we have to pay twenty times the
amount of taxes that they pay. That is unjust, and should be remedied.
I notice that a life insurance company which receives a net profit of nearly three millions of dollars, pays five thousand dollars tax. I believe it is less than two mills on the dollar of the net profits of that institution. If anything can be more unjust and more unfair than that, I cannot tell what it can be.
I think it is all well enough that our churches should be taxed, and for one I am perfectly willing to do it; but I cannot see the propriety of talking so much on that subject when that is a mere drop in the bucket by the side of the wrongs that our railroad and insurance companies practice upon the people of Wisconsin.
Mr. Jordan --I am not a public speaker, but I wish I was, so that I could tell you well what I think of this subject. I never heard the question of church property being taxed treated as it has been to-night. I am a church man, but I think all property should be taxed equally. It looked a little to me, however, as though the heavy drives were all at the churches instead of the railroad and other corporations.
Mr. Spencer - Perhaps my friend Mr. Gordon is a privileged character in this regard. Occupying the position he does, as a Christian clergyman, he has undoubtedly a right of criticism upon churches which ordinary mortals do not enjoy. And, furthermore, in order to relieve him of any suspicions of complicity with the railroads, I may say that he owns no railroad stock or bonds. I may say, if his preachings are applied to practice, that he is opposed to all systems of dead-heading, even for clergymen; and if he has placed greater stress upon this evil of church ex: emption, I think he may be excused upon this ground, that the beginning of all the mischief is the church exemption, as furnishing a pretext for claims for exemption of certain kinds of property from taxation.
The Rev. Mr. Speer, of Brooklyn, N. Y., who is probably known to you as a pretty prominent and conservative Presbyterian clergyman, is the author of a book entitled "Religion of the State,” which goes over this whole ground very exhaustively, of the relation of religion to the state, and deals with this subject of
church exemption substantially in the same way in wbich Mr. Gordon deals with it.
Now some of our Roman Catholic fellow citizens are giving their attention to this question, in a very rational way, too, I am bappy to say. I happen to have the pleasure and the honor of a personal acquaintance with some of the representative of the Roman Catholic citizens of this state, and especially of Milwaukee, and I have talked with them on this subject, and they are coming to the conclusion that the position which they occupy before the public, in view of the exemption of their vast property, their in. stitutions and their churches, from taxation, is a position which compromises them very seriously in the estimation of the public. I had a conversation, not long siuce, with a prominent Catholic of Milwaukee, and he said to me: “If you will carry out this principle of universal, equal taxation, we won't raise a single objection; but if you make a special drive at the churches, we object.” I said to that gentleman that I believed sincerely that there was no one thing which the Roman Catholic church can do in this country to raise itself in public estimation, that would be so successful and so profitable to the church in every respect, as to come forward and demand equal taxation. I had a conversation, not long since, with an ex-mayor of our city, who is a communicant of that church — a very fair minded, intelligent gentleman — and he said to me that the Catholic church in this country is in a more healthy condition than in any other country in the world; and he ascribed it to the fact that the church and state in this country were so entirely separated. He agrees with me, I believe, and with Mr. Gordon, and with you, that this practice of the exemption of church property from taxation is wrong.
A priest in New York said this system must result, ultimately, in the confiscation by the state of all church property, and he is undoubtedly right.
In regard to railroads, I cannot agree with my friend Mr. Field, for it seems to me that if the principle of taxation is protection, the tax should be paid where the protection is received. That protection is given in every part of the road throughout the entire state, in the towns and counties, and the expenses are paid there
for this protection, and there is the very place where it should be paid.
Mr. Field - Where do you protect the rolling stock ?
Mr. Spencer - That is a practical difficulty. All systems of taxation are attended more or less with these practical difficulties. The principle which I lay down is right.
I most heartily concur in the general sentiment of approval of the address of Mr. Gordon, and I feel that a special debt of gratitude is due bim for the position which he, as a clergyman, has taken in this matter.
Mr. Main — I am a laboring man. I always pay my fare at full price, and always ride in the common passenger car. I don't ride in a Pullmau Palace car. I know better than to go there, because they would know in a minute that I was a laboring man. They would grin me out of it as quick as Crockett grinned the coon out of the tree. (Laughter.] But what I wish to say is, that it is entirely wrong the way we are taxed. If the railroads should pay in the same proportion as other property, it would be upwards of four million. Instead of that, it is less than four hundred thousand. Gov. Smith seems troubled because he thinks that we are not assessed as high as we ought to be. Now, if he would insist that the railroads should be assessed and taxed like other property in the state, the percentage on our assessment would be low enough. If all property was assessed alike in Wisconsin, we would have less than one per cent., and that would be a credit to our state.
Mr. Gordon — Gov. Smith, I think, has nothing to do with the matter. It rests with the people to set these matters right.
The reason I have laid so much emphasis upon the question of church exemption in this paper is because the railroad and insurance companies have already acknowledged the right of the state to tax them. The churches have not. Our fight is with the churches now. That is the only really exempt property in the state -the only running sore on the body politic.
One other word. Here is the practical question. We want to act on the principle. The methods will take care of themselves by and by. Three years from now the people of this state, if