January 10, 1876
Fellow-Citizens of the General Assembly:
Questions of National concern, in the existing condition of public affairs, may well be left to those officers to whom the people, in conformity with the Constitution of the United States, have confided the important duties and responsibilities of the various departments of the General Government.
During the term for which you have been elected, the Constitution of the State devolves on you the task of dealing with many subjects very interesting to the people of Ohio. The duty of communicating to you the condition of the State, and of recommending measures deemed expedient, was performed at the opening of your present session by the distinguished citizen who has preceded me in the executive office. In complying with the usage which requires me to appear before you on this occasion, I am, therefore, relieved from the necessity of entering upon any extensive examination of the subjects which will claim your attention. There are, however, a few topics on which brief suggestions may, perhaps, be profitably submitted.
The attention of the Legislature has often been earnestly invoked to the rapid increase of municipal and other local expenditures, and the consequent augmentation of local taxation and local indebtedness. This increase is found mainly in the cities and large towns. It is certainly a great evil. How to govern cities well, consistently with the principles and methods of popular government, is one of the most important and difficult problems of our time. Profligate expenditure is the fruitful cause of municipal misgovernment. If a means can be found which will keep municipal expenses from largely exceeding the public necessities, its adoption will go far towards securing honesty and efficiency in city affairs. In cities large debts and bad government go together. Cities which have the lightest taxes and smallest debts are apt, also, to have the purest and most satisfactory governments.
The following statement, showing the increase of municipal taxation and indebtedness in the cities and large towns of Ohio, ought to arrest attention.
In 1871, in thirty-one of the principal cities and towns of the State, the average rate of taxation was twenty-three and one tenth mills on the dollar. The total amount of taxes levied for all purposes was $8,988,064. The total indebtedness was $7,187,082.
In 1875, in the same cities and towns, the average rate of taxation was twenty-eight and three-tenths mills on the dollar. The total amount of taxes levied for all purposes was $12,361,934. The total indebtedness was $20,800,491.
The salient points in this statement are, that in four years the rate of municipal taxation has increased almost twenty-five per cent, the total amount of municipal taxes has increased over thirty-seven per cent, and municipal indebtedness has increased about one hundred and ninety per cent, or more than thirteen and a half millions of dollars. If this great increase of burdens affected directly the whole people of the State, they would give their agents in the legislative and executive departments of the State Government no peace until effective measures to prevent its continuance were adopted. But, in fact, the whole people of the State are deeply interested in this subject. The burdens borne by the cities and towns must be shared, in part at least, by all who transact business with them. The town and the neighboring country have a common interest, and, in many respects, must be regarded as one community.
It has been said that the discretion committed to the local authorities, however limited and guarded, must be necessarily large; that in respect to the imposition of the largest proportion of the burden imposed upon the citizen, they constitute the real legislature; and that for the prevention of the evils we are considering, the people must exercise the greatest care in the choice of citizens to fill the important local offices. Experience does not seem to justify the expectation that an adequate remedy can be obtained in this way.
I submit that to the subject of local indebtedness, the General Assembly should apply the principles of the State Constitution on the subject of State indebtedness.
It is not enough to require in every grant of special authority to incur debt, as a condition precedent, that the people interested shall approve it by their votes. It is well known how easily such elections are carried, under the influence of local excitement and local rivalries. If the rule of the State Constitution which forbids all debts except in certain specified emergencies, is deemed too stringent to be applied to local affairs, the Legislature should at least accompany every authority to contract debt with an imperative requirement that a tax sufficient to pay off the indebtedness within a brief period shall be immediately levied, and thus compel every citizen who votes to increase debts to vote at the same time for an immediate increase of taxes sufficient to discharge them.
The wisdom of the policy long since adopted, of placing a judicious limitation on the power of municipal authorities to levy taxes, has been vindicated by experience. It must, however, ultimately fail to accomplish its object, if the increase of municipal indebtedness is allowed to go on. To authorize a town to contract a debt, whose expenditures already require taxation up to the limit allowed by law, is in its necessary effect tantamount to a repeal of the limitation.
Under the provisions of the eighth article of the Constitution, already referred to, the State debt, notwithstanding the extraordinary expenditures of the war, has been reduced from over twenty millions, the amount due in 1851, until it is now only about seven millions. An important part of the Constitutional provisions which have been so successful in State finances, is the section which requires the creation of a sinking fund, and the annual payment of a constantly increasing sum on the principal of the State debt. Let a requirement analogous to this be enacted in regard to existing local indebtedness; let a judicious limitation of the rate of taxation which local authorities may levy be strictly adhered to; and allow no further indebtedness to be authorized except in conformity with these principles, and we may, I believe, confidently expect that within a few years the burdens of debt now resting upon the cities and towns of the State will disappear, and that other wholesome and much needed reforms in the whole administration of our municipal government will of necessity follow the adoption of what may be called the cash system in local affairs.
Among the most interesting duties you will have to perform are those which relate to the guardianship and care of the unfortunate classes of society, and to the punishment and reformation of criminals. According to the latest reports, the State is responsible for the support and care of about fifteen thousand of her dependent citizens. The state is also bound to see that many thousands more, who are imprisoned for longer or shorter periods, on account of crime, have just and wise treatment. There is annually expended in the performance of these duties a sum exceeding two and a half millions of dollars. The people of Ohio feel a profound interest in what are known as the benevolent, reformatory, and penal institutions of the State.
In order that the General Assembly might, from time to time, receive full and accurate information as to the efficiency of the management of these institutions, and of the county and city jails, infirmaries and workhouses, it was enacted in 1867 that a Board of State Charities be established. It was intended that this board should be composed of citizens of intelligence and benevolence, who would serve without compensation. They were “to investigate the system of the public charitable and correctional institutions of the State, and to make such recommendations as they might deem necessary.” They were also required to make annually a full and complete report of their doings to the Legislature. In pursuance of this law a board was organized, which, at a trifling expense to the State, did much valuable work. By reason of their investigations and reports, important improvements were introduced in the infirmaries and jails of the State, and the general efficiency of our penal and reformatory system was increased. In 1872 the General Assembly, without due consideration, it is believed, repealed the act creating the board. I respectfully recommend that the Board of State Charities be re-established.
It is believed that an investigation in the interest of economy will discover that several offices, somewhat expensive to the State, may, without detriment to the public service, be either abolished or so consolidated as to accomplish a material saving to the treasury.
Agreeing generally with the sentiments of Governor Allen’s recent message, I desire especially to concur in what is said on the subject of the National Centennial Celebration.
No community in the world has been permitted by Providence to enjoy more largely and blessing conferred on mankind by the great event of 1776 than the people of Ohio. Ohio and her interests has no existence an hundred years ago. They are the growth of less than a century. The people naturally wish that their State, and her history, and her advantages, should be widely known. No other such opportunity for their exhibition will probably occur for several generations.
Let your session be short—avoid all schemes requiring excessive expenditure, whether State or local, and your constituents will cheerfully approve the appropriation required to secure to Ohio a fitting representation in the approaching celebration of the Nation’s birth.
Before taking the oath of office, I desire to make my acknowledgments to my predecessor, Governor Allen, for the friendly and considerate way in which he has treated me, both during and since the recent political contest in Ohio, and to express the wish, in which I am sure you and all the people whom he has served will unite with me, that, returning to his beautiful home overlooking the ancient capital of our State, he may enjoy for many years to come the best blessings which belong to this stage of existence.