Taxation in American States and Cities

By Richard T. Ely | Go to book overview

CHAPTER X. TAXATION OF RAILROADS OPERATED BY STEAM, AND OTHER CORPORATIONS.

RAILROADS

A DISTINCTION should be made in any rational scheme of taxation between taxes on corporations engaged in agriculture, manufactures, and commerce, and those which enjoy natural monopolies. The latter are quasi public in nature. There is no reason why ordinary business corporations should be taxed differently from individual or partnership bossiness. Both can be taxed on the rental value of their places of business.

It is advantageous in taxing corporations of a quasi public nature to tax them in proportion to gross revenues, as steam railroads are taxed in Wisconsin, Maryland, Vermont, and elsewhere. It is never desirable to tax any corporation on net revenues, as it leads to fraud. Railroads in some states are required by charter to lower charges when dividends exceed a certain per cent., but I believe no case is on record where this per cent. has been reached. Stock is watered, bonded debts created, combinations made, and high salaries paid, and thus apparent net revenues kept down. It sometimes happens that the officers of corporations, ordinary corporations as well as others, get control of the corporation and divide nearly all profits among themselves. A tax official of one city told me of a corporation whose president, secretary, and treasurer divided alt profits,

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