Because of the difficulties that have attended the assessment of personal property, many methods of securing better results have been suggested, and some have been tried. Such suggestions as the classification of property, the separation of state and local revenues, and the centralization of authority will be treated under separate topics. To mention all the devices that have been used or suggested in the different taxing districts would be next to impossible. Only a few will be noted as suggestive of some of the attempts to make the assessment of personal property successful.
Use of Oaths and Penalties. - As was indicated in the discussion of the local assessor, the law often places strong reliance upon the use of the oath to accomplish the proper assessment of property. The following requirements of the state of Illinois are typical of the requirements of many other states. The assessors are required to take the following oath:
I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the state of Illinois, and that I will faithfully discharge all the duties of the office of assessor, deputy assessor, or supervisor of assessments (as the case may be) to the best of my ability; that I will without fear or favor appraise all the property in said county at its fair cash value, said value to be ascertained at what the property would bring at a voluntary sale in the due course of business and trade; and that I will assess said property when so appraised at one half its said cash value; that I will cause every person, company, or corporation assessed, to sign his, her, or its assessment schedule, and I will administer to each and every person so signing said assessment schedule, the oath thereon, and return said schedule so signed and file the same with the county clerk.
The Illinois law provides for the following penalties: If any assessor refuses or knowingly neglects to perform any duty required of him by law, or if he consents to any evasions of the law whereby any property required by law to be assessed shall be exempted or valued at less than required by law, he shall, upon conviction, be fined for each offense not less than $100 nor more than $5,000, and shall be imprisoned in the county jail not exceeding one year, or shall be both fined and imprisoned. Anyone who evades the law in regard to the assessment of property or who delivers a false list to the assessor, shall be punished by a fine not to exceed $5,000 or by imprisonment in the county jail not to exceed one year, or both. Yet the public treasuries are not being filled with fines from assessors and property owners, neither are they crowding the county jails. A glance at the figures for property valuations, moreover, would immediately convince one that it is not because the requirements of the law are being enforced.
Other Methods. - Some attempts have been made to divorce the assessors and equalization boards from local politics and influences, and to give the assessors broader powers in locating property. To have no political interest between the assessor and the assessed is of course an advantage, since no office is then at stake. Some plan should be followed, however, to insure that the assessors and members of the equalization boards will be efficient and capable men. This, of course, could not hope to solve the difficulties in reaching intangible values.
The powers of assessors have often been extended in order to enable them to better reach intangible property values, and just as often have the results been unsatisfactory. It is sometimes attempted to enlist the aid of citizens in securing just assessments. One state requires the publication of the entire assessment list, so that everyone may know the assessed value of the property of everyone else. The hope that discrepancies would be reported, however, has not been realized.
Ohio Tax Inquisitor Law. - One of the most commonly cited examples of the attempt to enlist citizens in the securing of accurate assessments is what has been called the Ohio tax inquisitor law. Under this law anyone could report property that he thought had not been listed with the assessor. If this proved to be true, a 50 per cent penalty was added, a part of which was to go to the individual who made the report. The result, however, was unsatisfactory, and little was accomplished in securing more accurate assessments of personal property. The result of every attempt to reach intangible property values, moreover, has been much the same.