Taxation of Business Property: Is Uniformity Still a Valid Norm?

By John H. Bowman; Frederick D. Stocker | Go to book overview

6
ENFORCEMENT OF UNIFORMITY

John O. Behrens

As it has evolved within the sturdy if checkered history of property assessment and taxation, uniformity tends to reflect reality, in what it is and what it is not.

Uniformity in this context does not mean universality. It does mean like treatment of taxpayers similarly situated. That kind of treatment conforms with the equal protection of the laws afforded all of us by the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. Thus, the equal protection clause, directing that no state shall "deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws," lives easily with classifications, so long as they treat equally persons who, in all relevant aspects, are alike.

In controverted tax matters, "like treatment" has been and still is perceived in many quarters to be compatible with abundant de jure classifications, all rationally based, and also with assorted de facto levels, none necessarily so blessed. Add to such challenges the innate difficulty that can accompany the search for market value of property rarely sold, and you get an idea of what yesterday's assessors traditionally faced in performing a job often deemed impossible. It was in fact so regarded by the U.S. Supreme Court back in 1923, when a plaintiffs property was assessed at 100 percent of true value, in conformity with state law, while other realty in the county was assessed at 55 percent of such value. In remanding the case, the Supreme Court ordered reduction to the 55 percent level for the assessment on the plaintiffs property, noting that "where it is impossible to secure both the standard of true value, and the uniformity and equality required by law, the latter requirement is to be preferred as the just and ultimate purpose of the law" ( Sioux City Bridge v. Dakota County 1923: 446).

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