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Real estate record and builders' guide: v. 43, no. 1109: June 15, 1889

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June 15, 1889 Record and Guide. 833 institutions for the care of destitute children. This allowance has in no case been less than sufficient to support the inmates for whom the city authorities, who are left without discretion in the matter, are required to grant it. The total amount so appropriated is between one and one-half and two milUon dollars yearly. The result of this system has been that the numbers of these dependent children have increased at a much faster ratio than the population of the city, and a heavier burden is being imposed on the taxpayers. The State Board of Charities, in the report of 1886, refers to the effect of the appropriations in substance as follows : There is no check put upon the growth of the majority of these institutions. The managers have no consideration of economy to force them to scrutinize the claim of each applicant. On the contrary, the per capita allowance may serve as an incentive to increase the size of the institution, because a larger number of persona can be much raore cheaply maintained, in proportion, than a smaller. The rate is the same, no matter what the number, and the temptation to be lax in regard to the admissions thus becomes almost overpowering, for the admissions depend on the will of the managers whom the Legislature can alone control. By granting the Board of Estimate and Apportionment discretionary power in making these allow¬ ances, this evil may, in part at least, be avoided. Still another example of the manner in which pubhc taxes are unwisely and unjustly spent in charity is afforded by the system of " out-door relief" in vogue throughout the State of New York. Administered with discrimination and judgment, public out-door relief may be given without serious evil; but it is not, generally, and will not, it is safe to say, be so administered. What is the result? The poor law oflSicials are, from good or from selfish motives, actually pauperizing men and women who <'ome to them for help, and encouraging them to a life of idleness, in which the taxpayer is forced to support them. Brooklyn and Philadelphia have remedied this abuse by the total abolition of public out-door relief, and New York City has reduced the amount given to a small sum. Hundreds of thousands of dollars are thus saved to these cities, yet no increase in suffering or want is noticed, nor is more given in private charities. This method seems the best, but if it should not prove practicable in all places fchis principle should at any rate prevail—that the position of the one who is given relief ba made less attractive than tha't of the independent laborer of the lowest class. These are some of the evils and reforms that suggest themselves in an examination of the expenditures from the public treasui'iea for charitable purpoaes. It may be added that these evils and abuses are not all on the side of over-expenditure. When the insane are kept in county poor-houses for 95 cents, 98 cents and $1.06 per capita per week, there is something to be said about too great economy and under-expenditure. It is a little curious that citizens should have to seek for light on the electric lighting of the city from the Gas Commission. This commission consists of the Mayor, the Comptroller and the Commis¬ sioner of Public Works. For about two months they held the bids for lighting the city during the current year, but a decision has only just been reached. Why is this? The ti-ouble which arose a year ago over these bids and postponed the acceptance of any for twelve months may have something to do with the case. Before awarding any contracts again, is not this an excellent opportunity for the Gas Commission to consider the wisdom of the city owning its own electric plant and furnishing ita own light, thus saving to taxpayers the large sum which now goes annually into the pockets of private corporations as "proflts." Many scores of municipalities throughout the country ai'e supplying themselves with light, as they do water, to their own great advantage. In every case a better and cheaper service than under individual enterprise is obtained. Indeed, the difference in the cost of light under municipal and under private management ia so remarkable that it is the plain duty of our city officials to investigate, the matter and discover the reason why Chicago, for instance, can supply itself with electric light at fifteen cents per lamp, before awarding contracts to private corporations at an ^'average" of thirty-flve cents per lamp or some¬ thing like that sum. There is no reason for our paying twenty cents more than Chicago that will be satisfactory to taxpayers. Other cities have shown the way. Will those in authority look after the interests of the city ? as to their management, but whose interest it ie to do as little work as possible. Superficially there is a certain justice in the system, for it makes those who use the roads pay for them. Yet this jus¬ tice is seeming, not real. The people who travel on the roads most are not alone those benefited by them, neither is the beneflt obtained at all proportional to the number of times they are used. As an inevitable result most of the roads in that vio^nityare detest¬ able ; and if there is any economy in the actual outlay (which may be very much doubted), it ie more than counterbalanced by the cosfc of the weai- and tear on cart and horse. New York needs a law like that of New Jersey, which puts the care of the roads into the hands of a competent engineer in the employ of the county. They have a method in northern New York of keeping tiie roads in .repair which is about as bad and ineffective as any system that could be devised. It is the almost universal custom to let them out to some farmer whose house is situated on Lhe highway, whose duty it is to keep the road in repair, and whose privilege it is to collect certain tolls regulated by the description of the wagon and team. The farmer very naturally undertakes the task for the pur¬ pose of making money. The more he has to spend on the roada the less he will make. Consequently he is not going to lay out any more than he is obhged to. Thus the care of the highways is put into the hands of a man who not only lacks all technical knowledge The Taxation of Tenants. The ordinary man has but small powers of idealization. In order to understand he must see, feel, hear, or touch. Words and the counters thafc pass for things are never enough to make him fchril as he would to the touch of reality itself. We think that our rich men have been generous in contributing to the Johnstown relief fund; but let us suppose for a minute that, while the charitable gentlemen were sitting in the Mayor's offlce organizing that com¬ mittee, there could have been reproduced in massive proportions a vivid picture of that mighty wall of water raging down the valley, its ominous roar broken only by the terrified shrieks of its victims, might it not then have happened that some of these gentlemen would have contributed more than a day's or a week's income ? It was not until Governor Beaver visited the vaUey itself that he felt called upon to spend $1,000,000 of the money of the State in order to retrieve some of the ruin. This commonplace psychological fact should be remembered in dealing with matters that seem to be far away from the science of the mind. Above all, it should not be forgotten in discussing the effects of certain kinds of taxation. On it may be founded an argument of some force for preferring a direct to an indirect tax. If a man is brought into immediate relations with the tax collector, and is obliged to send in his check payable to the order of that official, there can be little doubt in his mind ae to the ultimate destination of his money, whereas if a tax means only a cent more a pound or yard for this or that commodity it is very apt to become confuted with the cost of liis purchase. The tax, of com'se, is none the leaa preaent in one case than in the other ; but in one caae it is present in its own capacity, as it were, and not disguised by the flimsy veil of an increased milliner's bill. Indeed, John Stuart Mill feared that in case all the money of the State were raised by direct taxation the people would realize what they paid out so forcibly that the temptation to repudiate their public debts would be too sfcrong for them. But, however we may regard Mr. Mills'fears, it is certain that this presentation to the taxpayer's senses of the actiial amount of his taxea is a skiUful way to awaken his con¬ science to the dangers of administ;rative extravagance and dis¬ honesty. A tax law should seldom be.framed for the sole purpose of gathering money. The transfer of capital which it implies may be so regulated as to encourage the production of necessities, put a bm-den upon the production of luxuries, and generally to be utilized to make the community happier and better. " One of the most marked and most important distinctions between direct and indirect taxation," says Prof. D. T. Ely, "is that the former tends to encourage good citizenship, while the latter cultivates a careless and indifferent attitude with respect to public affairs." May it not be that the often remarked indifference of Americans to the incom¬ petency and self-interestedness of their officials is due largely to the fact that our national and most of our municipal and State taxes are levied so thafc the taxpayer ia not made to feel his respon¬ sibility ? Thie principle applied to the tax:ation of real estate in this city simply means that the city, county and State taxes should be paid, not by those who own, but by those who lease houses. Everybody has to occupy a house; few can afford to purchase them. It is granted that the tax, however levied, falls ultimately on the tenant, to be by him distributed stUI more widely; but, as was said before, it makes ail the difference in the world whether the money is paid ae a tax or as a rent. For an analogous reason ifc is a good thing that a tax should be paid quarterly rather than annually. The more you can get people to appreciate that it is their money continually being squandered, the more they will endeavor to correct the evil. Bring them face to face with incompetent officials, with wasteful admin¬ istrative methods, and with the thousand-and-one absurdities of ths departmental regulations, and the remedy will be the sooner found, because it will be the more sought for. Wc must not, however, expect too much from a device of this kind. The evil of our political methods is too deeply rooted to be charmed away by any mere alteratious in our methods of taxation. Prof, Ely goes too far in saying that a system of direct taxation "promotes good citizenship," unless "good citizen¬ ship" means a desirable result without any regard to the mc^tive which led up to it. Taken in this restricted sense, a system of tax-