Michigan Central Railroad Company v. Powers
[Argument of Counsel from pages 245-247 intentionally omitted]
This suit was brought in the circuit court of the United States for the western district of Michigan to restrain the respondent, the auditor general of the state, from enforcing against the appellant the provisions of act No. 173 of the Michigan Laws of 1901, an act to provide for the assessment of the property of railroad and certain other companies, for the levying of taxes thereon by a state board of assessors, and for the collection of such taxes. The taxes involved in the suit are those for 1902, resulting from the first assessment under the statute. Prior to the year 1900 the Constitution of Michigan contained, in art. 14, the following sections applicable to taxation:
'Sec. 10. The state may continue to collect all specific taxes accruing to the treasury under existing laws. The legislature may provide for the collection of specific taxes from banking, railroad, plank road, and other corporations hereafter created.
'Sec. 11. The legislature shall provide a uniform rule of taxation, except on property paying specific taxes, and taxes shall be levied on such property as shall be prescribed by law.
'Sec. 12. All assessments hereafter authorized shall be on property at its cash value.
'Sec. 13. The legislature shall provide for an equalization by a state board in the year one thousand eight hundred and fifty-one, and every fifth year thereafter, of assessments on all taxable property except that paying specific taxes.
'Section 14. Every law which imposes, continues, or revives a tax shall distinctly state the tax, and the object to which it is to be applied; and it shall not be sufficient to refer to any other law to fix such tax or object.' In that year §§ 10, 11, and 13 were amended so as to read as follows:
'Sec. 10. The state may continue to collect all specific taxes accruing to the treasury under existing laws. The legislature may provide for the collection of specific taxes from corporations. The legislature may provide for the assessment of the property of corporations, at its true cash value, by a state board of assessors, and for the levying and collection of taxes thereon. All taxes hereafter levied on the property of such classes of corporations as are paying specific taxes under laws in force on November sixth, A. D. nineteen hundred, shall be applied as provided for specific state taxes in § 1 of this article.
'Sec. 11. The legislature shall provide an uniform rule of taxation, except on property paying specific taxes, and taxes shall be levied on such property as shall be prescribed by law: Provided, That the legislature shall provide an uniform rule of taxation for such property as shall be assessed by a state board of assessors, and the rate of taxation on such property shall be the rate which the state board of assessors shall ascertain and determine is the average rate levied upon other property upon which ad valorem taxes are assessed for state, county, township, school, and municipal purposes.
'Sec. 13. In the year one thousand nine hundred and one, and every fifth year thereafter, and at such other times as the legislature may direct, the legislature shall provide for an equalization of assessments by a state board, on all taxable property, except that taxed under laws passed pursuant to § 10 of this article.'
This change in the Constitution was doubtless owing to a decision of the supreme court of the state (Pingree v. Auditor General [Pingree v. Dix] 120 Mich. 95, 44 L. R. A. 679, 78 N. W. 1025), of date of April 26, 1899, holding unconstitutional an act passed in 1881 in respect to the assessment and taxation of telegraph and telephone lines. An act 19 of 1899, passed March 15, 1899, and commonly called the 'Atkinson bill,' was subject to the same objections as the act of 1881, and was evidently regarded as equally unconstitutional. Indeed, though not directly involved in that suit, it was referred to in the opinion of Mr. Justice Montgomery.