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To the Senate of the State of California :
I respectfully return to your honorable body, Senate Bill No. 250, entitled," An Act to provide for the construction and maintenance of an academy in the County of Tehama," without my approval.
This bill, if enacted into a law, will authorize the Board of Supervisors of Tehama County to issue seventy-five thousand dollars of county bonds, to be expended in the erection and furnishing of an academy building, boarding house for teachers, students, etc., in Tohama County. It also provides for the levy of an annual tax of ten cents on the hundred dollars of property in the county for the support and maintenance of the academy after it shall have been erected and finished.
The bonds are to bear interest at the rate of eight per cent. per annum, making a sum of six thousand dollars to be raised annually by taxation. The tax required to be levied annually to support the academy will produce four thousand dollars.
The sum total, therefore, which the bill provides for raising annually by taxation, is ten thousand dollars.
The debt which this bill would create equals one and eight-tenths per cent. of the whole assessed value of the real and personal property of the county. The assessed value of the property, real and personal, of the county, for the year eighteen hundred and seventyfour-five was four million seventy-eight thousand eight hundred and eighty-five dollars. The debt of the county for the same year was: funded, sixty-five thousand six hundred and eighty-eight dollars and fifty-three cents; floating, twenty-nine thousand one hundred and forty-six dollars and forty-four cents, total, ninety-fou'r thousand eight hundred and thirty-four dollars and ninety-seven cents. If we add to this seventy-five thousand dollars, the amount of bonds provided for in this bill, the indebtedness of the county will aggregate one hundred and sixty-nine thousand eight hundred and thirty-four dollars, or over four per cent of the assessed value of the whole real and personal property of the county. The present debt of the county equals two and a third per cent of the assessed value of its property.
The rate of taxation in the county for eighteen hundred and seventy-four-five was, for State and county purposes, two dollars on
the hundred ; if this becomes a law, twenty-five cents more on each hundred dollars will have to be added.
I think your honorable body will agree with me that four per cent. of the assessed value of its property is more than a county ought to owe, unless it shall have been forced into debt by the most unavoidable circumstances, for the most necessary purposes; also, that two dollars and twenty-five cents on the hundred is more than the people ought to be required to pay in taxes, unless such rate is absolutely necessary to meet the requirements of government in the exercise of its legitimate and unquestioned functions.
It may not be amiss to advert to the fact that the Constitution does not permit the State, except in certain specified exceptional cases, to go into debt over three hundred thousand dollars.
The natural and logical inference from this inhibition would be that the counties, which are only fractional parts of the State, organized to aid in the government of the State, should also be denied the right to incur debts which, in the aggregate, would, added to the debts created directly by the State, exceed three hundred thousand dollars. The object of the denial to the State of the power to create a debt beyond the sum specified, was, doubtless, to save the people from demoralization, inseparable from the creation of large debts, and the oppression of excessive taxation necessarily resulting therefrom. But if the counties may go into debt without restriction, and such has been both the legislative and judicial construction pụt upon the Constitution, we are perpetually in danger of being overwhelmed by the very evils which the framers of the Constitution sought to protect us from by the provisions against the creation of debts. And as the Courts will not declare county debts, when created for legitimate purposes, unconstitutional, no matter what their magnitude may be, the duty of the Legislature is, if possible, more sacred and imperative than it otherwise would be, to see that the counties incur pecuniary obligations only for legitimate governmental purposes, and in such amounts as may be absolutely necessary. Thus, and thus only, can the people be saved from those twin evils, the most blighting to the public prosperity-crushing debt and exhausting taxation.
If every county in the State should ask permission to create a debt for the purpose of building and furnishing an academy which should bear the same ratio to its property which the debt proposed to be created by this bill would bear to the whole property of Tehama County, and the permission should be granted, the aggregate of the county debts that would be created for this purpose alone would be eleven million dollars. And yet, can there be any reason given why Tehama County should go into debt to such an extent for this purpose, which will not apply with equal pertinency and force in the case of every county in the State ? But what legislator would consent that such a debt, even for the cherished and sacred cause of education, should be put upon the people of the State ?
The reasons above set forth against the passage of the bill proceed upon the assumption that the object for which the debt is to be created is a proper and legitimate one, but that it is against sound policy to burden the people of Tehama County with a debt of such magnitude--a debt which must, to some extent, cripple their enter: prise and impair their prosperity. However forcible these objections to the bill may be, there is another, which, in my judgment, is of a still more serious character
I do not question that it is within the constitutional power of the Legislature to create a debt for the purpose specified in this Act. The theory upon which State Constitutions are construed is, that the Legislatures possess legislative omnipotence, except in so far as their power is restrained or abridged by the Federal or State Constitutions. And I know of no clause, either in the Constitution of the United States or of this State, which forbids the employment of the taxing power, whether by the State or the counties, to promote education. But precisely because it is a case in which the Courts could not be successfully invoked to protect the people against the taxing power, there is the greater reason why the Legislature should consider well before calling that power into action.
In the address which I_delivered at the opening of the session; I took occasion to say that I held it to be the duty of the State to provide every child within its jurisdiction with the opportunity of obtaining an education.' I defined the education, which I held the State bound to furnish, to be what is popularly understood by the phrase, “ a common school education.". The employment of the taxing power to provide schools in which such education might be obtained, I held to be a proper and legitimate exercise of that power of sovereignty. I then set forth, at some length, the reasons which, in my judgment, made necessary and justifies this use of this power, But I do not think the same reasons exist, requiring and justifying the support of the higher schools by taxation. It is true, we have the University and the Normal School, both furnishing education to the few, in the higher branches of education, and both supported, in whole or in part, by taxation. The support of the Normal School by taxation can, perhaps, be vindicated, on the ground that it is the head of our common school system, and is necessary to the prosperity and success of that system. In the case of the University there is no such obvious grounds, it must be confessed, on which to plant a defense of its support by taxation. It may be said, in extenuation of what we have heretofore done in its behalf, and also, of what we may stiĩl have to do for it, that its foundations were laid in the magnificent grant of land from the Federal Government for the purpose, and that the taxation which the people of the State have borne, or which they may yet bear, to supplement the munificence of the General Government, has been, and will be so light as scarcely to be felt. We cannot omit to remark, however, that most of the great and renowned institutions of learning, both on this continent and in Europe, have been planted and nurtured by private donations and bequests, and not by public taxation.
The objection to this bill, on this ground, is, that it will tax the entire people of the county to build and maintain the academy, while but a very small percentage of the children in the county will ever be able to enjoy its advantages.
If the bill becomes a law, and the academy is built, the people outside of the town in which it shall be located will be able to give their children the advantages of it only by boarding them away from home. This will entail an expense which not over one family in ten will be able or willing to incur. To say that one-tenth of the children of the county will ever attend the academy, if it shall be built, I think, must be conceded to be a liberal estimate. Yet, the parents of each one of the nine children who do not attend, will be compelled to pay each year twenty-five cents on every hundred
dollars of their property to support an institution for the education
For these reasons I am constrained to return the bill without my
WILLIAM IRWIN, Governor.