INEQUALITIES BETWEEN PERSONS. The inequality of the general property tax as between citizens of the same town arises on account of the fact that the assessor must, to some extent, rely upon the declaration of property by citizens for the purpose of taxation. This, indeed, is the theory upon which the administration of this tax rests. The law com monly states that each citizen shall return, either in writing or verbally in response to questions asked, a list of all belonging to him that is taxable under the law, and in some States he is obliged to take his oath as to the accuracy of his statement. The assessor, it is true, is at liberty to revise the statement thus made in case he believe it to be a false statement, and the citizen, also, has the right of appeal to a properly authorized board; but after all is said and done the assessments of specific properties will remain propor tionally to each other as they were originally handed in.
As an illustration of the nature of the oath attached to the list of questions which the taxpayer is called upon to answer the following, used in the State of Georgia, is sub mitted: " I do solemnly swear that I have carefully read [or have heard read] and have duly considered the questions propounded in the foregoing tax list, and that the value placed by me on the property returned, as shown by said list, is at the true market value thereof; and I further swear that I returned, for the purpose of being taxed thereon, every species of property that I own in my own right, or have control of, either as agent, executor, administrator, or other wise; and that, in making said return for the purpose of being taxed thereon, I have not attempted, by transferring my property, or by any other means sought, to evade the laws governing taxation in this State. I do further swear that in making said return I have done so by estimating the true worth and value of every species of property contained therein." As illustrating the extensive powers which it seems neces sary to repose in the hands of public officers for the purpose of administering the general property tax reference may be to the taxing laws of the State of Ohio. In this State parties may be summoned, questioned under oath; and if any person fails to appear, or appearing, refuses to testify, he shall be subject to like proceedings and penalties for con tempt as witnesses in actions pending in the Probate Court.'
The costs and expenses must be paid by the person whose property is under examination, if he has made a false state ment to escape the payment of taxes in whole or in part; but if the statement of the person is correct, and no intention to evade the payment of taxes shall be evident, the costs and expenses must be paid by the county.
" If a person refuse to list or swear his property to the assessor, the auditor shall add fifty per cent to the amount returned or ascertained, and the amount thus increased shall be the basis of taxation." These illustrations are typical and indicate the process which, under one form or another, must be relied upon for the administration of the general property tax. Dr. Ely is right when he says : " The law affords every facility to the officers intrusted with the administration of the tax laws for the ascertainment of property. Indeed, it is hard to see how law could go further." But, notwithstanding these provi sions for the execution of the law, it is the universal expe rience of the American States that assessments are unequal and unjust as between citizens. An oath is worth no more than an affirmation; an affirmation is at last analysis self assessment. It results, therefore, that the amount of property handed in, as also the valuation of visible property, is deter mined, even by honest citizens, by the amount which they consider to be their just relative payment for the support of the State; while the amount handed in by dishonest citi zens is the smallest amount which they believe they can induce the assessor to accept. No scheme could be devised for fos tering dishonesty like this one of self-assessment, and it should be final against the continuance of the general property tax that it must rely upon self-assessment. It might properly be characterized as a taxing system degressive in its assessments in proportion to dishonesty. They who are honest are taxed upon a large proportion of their property, while the dishonest are enabled to evade the performance of their full duty to the State. The report of the Tax Commission of Ohio does not present the case too strongly when it says that the general property tax results in debauching the moral sense and is a school of perjury, imposing burdens on the man who is scru pulously honest.