In addition to the constitutional amendments, a new law (LB 1063) provides for the taxation of personal property on the net book value method specified in the constitution. When a property's net book value descends to zero, it is no longer taxed. Only depreciable personal property is subject to tax, all other personal property is exempt. This includes farm machinery and equipment, and breeding livestock defined as depreciable.
One of the difficulties about enforcing uniformity, with attention to constitutional and statutory requirements, is asking the right questions. When is classification conducive to the enforcement of uniformity? When does classification impede such enforcement? In view of the deference given by the courts to the latitude states have in determining and implementing tax policy without violating the equal protection clause, the notion sometimes gains currency that "anything goes." The "rational basis" test can, with all deliberate speed, justify and ensure not uniformity, but departures from uniformity. Can the need for heightened scrutiny be as rare as recent history suggests? What are the limits of merely rational scrutiny?
Another part of the dilemma in property taxation is its golden standard, "market value." Get this right, in the beginning, and uniformity very much falls in place. Combine professional, full market valuations with an efficient appeals process, and another element of uniformity becomes institutionalized. Indeed, a National Tax Association committee in 1976 made its first recommendation for equitable review of assessments the "[a]nnual appraisal of all taxable property, at market value, unless an alternative standard such as current-use value is prescribed by law" ( National Tax Association-Tax Institute of America 1977: 118).
Here the dilemma shows again. Market value is basically a demanding standard, by turns elusive, subjective, temporal (each estimate thereof has a date, and needs expeditious periodic revision)--in a word, difficult. Nevertheless, it is at least the peer of its substitutes, including "acquisition value." The latter has thus far survived in the courts, but will its "rational basis" remain so for a generation?
Regarding the 4-R Act, access to the federal courts has been a boon to the railroads, though the individual circuits do not always agree on issues. Here again, an emphasis on market value, from the start, might have remedied problems without resort to the federal forum. What does the need for a federal law to prevent state and local discrimination say about the enforcement of uniformity for a state or local tax based essentially on market value?