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PENAL INSTITUTIONS AND REFORM School. The most noticeable and gratifying feature of the report from these institutions is the great decrease of inmates, as shown by the following table.
Number of inmates in the respective institutions the first day of August:
1878 1880 1882 State Prison........
176 142 90 Reform School...........
86 House of Correction........
70 45 The main cause of this decrease of crime is doubtless owing to the great demand for labor, which removes the temptations that are always occasioned by idleness. There has been drawn from the treasury for new buildings, repairs and current expenses, during the two years ending July 31, 1882: For the State Prison..................
$75,126 66 House of Correction.....
27,141 66 Reform School......
37,174 and there has been returned from convict labor and other receipts : From the State Prison........
..... $25,354 06 House of Correction.....
...... 14,363 66 Reform School............
1,071 It is a matter of congratulation that the several superintendents are said to be exceptionally able and faithful officials. Good discipline is maintained, while those confined are treated in a kind and humane manner. A small appropriation to complete out-buildings is asked for at the Prison and House of Correction. None is requested for special purposes at the Reform School, but its equivalent is recommended in such changes of the law as will reduce its income.
I am unable to agree with the Trustees of the Reform School in their recommendation that the law be repealed which requires towns to contribute to the support of the children they send to the School. The greatest fault found with the working of the Reform School has been that children were improperly sent there—for trivial offenses, of tender age, and of weak minds—sent by towns merely to be rid of them, thus throwing upon the State the expense that should be borne by the towns. Ex-Governor Dillingham, while trustee, asserted this in strong terms, saying, also, in one of his reports, that over sixty improper commitments had been made under the vagrant or tramp law alone. The law obliging towns to pay a portion of the expense of the School has been passed entirely with a view to preventing improper commitments. To repeal it would be another mark of changeable legislation, repealing laws before they have been fairly tested. The School night again be flooded with mere vagrants from the large villages, and we should again be called upon to enlarge the buildings. Communities should not be relieved of all responsibility in regard to truant boys.
MILITIA. A force of disciplined militia is a vital necessity in any State, as it is the last resort for the enforcement of the law. It is the only power that can vindicate the rights and preserve the liberties of the State in certain emergencies, without calling upon the general government, and its existence may prevent the necessity for its use. Our military force is small, consisting of one regiment and battery, but its efficiency is asserted by the Adjutant-General, and I am informed that constant efforts are being made by the field and line officers to improve its condition. The State is under obligations to all its members for their sacrifice of time and labor and for their efforts to preserve the martial spirit of the people. Certain business men of wealth have for years greatly aided the regiment and battery, and to them also our acknowledgments are due.
BOARD OF AGRICULTURE. The board serves a useful purpose in arousing the attention of farmers to a proper sense of the importance and dignity of their calling, and in disseminating valuable knowledge in regard to improved agricultural methods. So many of your number are familiar with the importance and necessity of the board, that I doubt not every measure calculated to enhance its value will receive your cordial support.
FISHERIES. I am informed that your attention will be called to the necessity of some change in the present law relating to the protection of fish.
The subject is one of no little importance to many persons, particularly to those living on the shores of Lake Champlain, and to the thousands who there make their summer homes.
The Fish Commissioners have practical and scientific knowledge, and I trust that ample power will be given them, or other proper persons, to enforce such laws as are enacted.
METHODS OF TAXATION. Many writers on this subject hold that only real estate should be taxed, while the other extreme view would tax all property, visible and invisible, the amount of invisible property to be ascertained by placing every person under oath as to the list returned by him. The latter is substantially our present plan, though we make many exemptions in both classes, and allow offsets for debts, against personal property. You will probably be asked to enact a law by which offsets can be made against real estate, to the amount of the mortgages thereon, but such relief would not be uniform unless extended to debts not secured by mortgage. Such laws would be just, but would tend to increase the number of mortgages, and to perpetuate those already existing. Exemptions and offsets should be abolished, or made uniform upon every species of property. Perhaps equal justice would be done by abolishing offsets, which in our last list amounted to over $32,000,000. This sum, added to the present valuation, would greatly decrease the rate per cent. of taxation, and be more uniform and just than the present system. In any event, justice demands that the owners of real and personal property should be put on the same basis of equality.
The present law was the result of an earnest, honest effort to equalize the burdens of taxation, and to remedy the evils notoriously existing under the old law. The step having been taken, and apparently approved by the people, no pains should be spared to make the law as perfect as possible. By its operation, the amount of personal property subject to taxation has been more increased than that of real estate, relieving to this extent, only, the owners of real property. Those who pay only a poll tax have received the greatest benefit, and this is the class that most deserves relief.
The appraisal of 1881, without equalizing boards, created perhaps the most unequal real estate grand list we have ever had. That of 1882, after equalization, is much more uniform, but is far from perfect. When the county boards meet, the fact that one of their number is to be chosen a member of the State board, has a bad effect. I would suggest that, in future, State boards be appointed by the Governor from the members of the county boards, or that it be made the duty of county boards to elect their members of the State board before doing any other business.
It is claimed that the present appraisal of railroad property, not having been submitted to the equalizing board, is much lower than it should be, and this deserves your attention.
No law will prevent the “race of fraud” to escape taxation. It will never cease until State taxes are raised in some other manner. Several States pay their entire ordinary expenses by a tax on corporations. A bill adopting this system was presented to the last Legislature by Ex-Governor Page, of Rutland. Another plan is that embraced in a bill introduced by Senator Dwinell at the same session, by which State taxes are to be levied on towns according to population. While this would not be entirely uniform, as no tax levy can be, it would seem to be more so than our present system. To both these plans I respectfully ask your attention. You will doubtless endeavor to regulate our method of taxation so that it shall conform to the principle of the Constitution, that every member of society is bound to contribute his proportion toward the expenses of the State.
The following table shows the changes in the State grand list for the last five years :
1879 Real Estate.......
.......$92,568,432 $71,017,981 Personal Property........ .......... 16,845,123 15,375,533
1881 Real Estate............$71,114,747 $102,437,102 Personal Property...... 15,037,262 46,896,967
The direct taxes levied and collected for the last two years were $497,097.
It is generally believed that the last increase of the number of Judges was unnecessary, but since that time the cases involving large amounts have increased, and it is claimed that the time of the Bench is now fully occupied in official duties. Two years since, the illness of Judge Pierpoint was urged as a reason for not reducing the number of Judges, and now, the somewhat impaired health of Judge Redfield, causing general regret, affords a similar reason. The reputation of the Court for impartial independence, and for learning and ability, is such as to be a just cause of satisfaction, and it would not be good policy to impose such an additional amount of labor upon them as would cause the resignation of any, particularly the elder members.
RAILROAD COMMISSIONER. This officer makes a sensible, business-like report, and very properly asks that a law be enacted insuring greater safety of passengers by requiring each car to be provided with axes and bars and with more secure heating apparatus.
RAILROAD LEGISLATION. Few subjects attract so much attention and occupy so much time in State Legislatures and Congress. It presents many new problems, and we cannot look to the past for a guide to their solution. It should not be kept out of sight and discussion, nor raised to undue prominence. In its consideration we should be free from the influence of railroad corporations, and from that of demagogues who seek to create hostility to railroad interests in order to obtain some personal advantage. We should never forget the vast benefits Vermont has derived from her railroads. It has been well said that “ We have no means of forming a correct estimate of how much has been added to the wealth, comfort, prosperity, and power of our State by the construction and operation of our great railroad system, by the facilities they have furnished for travel and transportation, by the markets they have opened, and by the value they have given to other property.” But when complaints arise that the people are not afforded the same facilities in freight and passage that are extended to other communities by the same lines : that discriminations in freight rates are made between persons and places : that rebates and special contracts are allowed to some and denied to others : that unjust combinations exist whereby consumers are obliged to pay more than a fair price for articles in common use: that large numbers travel without pay, thereby increasing the price paid by others : that the farmers of the West can place their products in the Boston market as cheaply as can the farmers of Vermont: that our small villages are becoming undesirable places of residence and business, for the reason that they cannot be reached or left by through trains : that manufacturers are deterred from locating in the State, by reason of uncertain and high rates of
freight: it manifestly becomes a proper topic for legislative consideration.
The power of the state to regulate and control railroad corporations and protect the interests of the people will not be denied. The late Hon. George P. Marsh, who was our second railroad commissioner, says in one of his reports : 6 The undersigned entertains no doubt of the legal power of the Legislature to subject railroad corporations in all respects to such general regulations as the public moral and material interests may demand.” But this power should be used with caution. Customs in force and long-established in this and adjoining States cannot be suddenly changed here while still in force elsewhere without great detriment to our railroads. Some of the evils complained of can and should be remedied by State legislation, but we should stop short of enacting laws hampering our railroads, so as unnecessarily to impair their prosperity or their power to compete with lines in other States.
Vermont is, fortunate in having her railroads operated by her own citizens, men of liberality and public spirit, deeply interested in whatever relates to the prosperity and welfare of the State. It is a general belief that they are conducted with a spirit of courtesy and accommodation, that every exertion is made by their managers to please and satisfy the people in all their gatherings at fairs and public meetings. It is highly desirable that this state of things should continue. No class controversy should arise between those who are mutually interested and dependent upon each other.
Realizing that it was impossible to frame a law to meet all requirements, Mr. Marsh, in the same report to which I have referred, says: " .. . the proper remedy is the creation of a board to which, under proper restrictions, the general controlling power of the State over the management of railroad companies shall be delegated.” Should the power of the State be so vested, I have no doubt that every cause of misunderstanding within the State would be adjusted in an honorable and amicable manner. But no Board or Legislature can reach outside the State, and much that is wrong in these matters is the result of the great national and continental system, controlled by immense and consolidated wealth, a system in which Vermont roads are as a drop in a bucket, a link in a chaln. It is a power so great that small corporations like those in Vermont are forced to join and strengthen it, or perish. We can, however, imitating the example of many other State Legislatures, give such expression to our views as shall arouse our State delegation in Congress to assist the national movement for the regulation of inter-State commerce, the power to do which was vested in Congress by the founders of our national constitution. The propriety of expressing to the State delegation in Congress your wishes on any subject has often been recognized by the action of Legislatures, notably in two instances, when the welfare and material interests of the State were threatened by efforts to secure the renewal of the reciprocity treaty with Canada.