ANNUAL MESSAGE TO GENERAL ASSEMBLY

 

January 3, 1871

Columbus, Ohio

 

Fellow Citizens of the General Assembly:

 

The official reports, which the law requires to be annually made to the Governor, show that the affairs of the various departments of the State Government and of the State Institutions have been conducted during the past year in a satisfactory manner.  I shall not attempt to give a synopsis of the facts and figures which the reports contain.  The most important parts of them have been spread before the people of the State by the newspaper press, and the details which may be desired with a view to legislation can be best obtained from the reports themselves.

 

I also refrain from making many recommendations.  Believing that too frequent changes of the laws and too much legislation are serious evils, I respectfully suggest that upon many subjects it may be well to defer legislation until the people have acted upon the question of calling a Constitutional Convention.  If such a Convention shall be called, it is not improbable that the General Assembly will be clothed with powers essentially different from those conferred by the present fundamental law in respect to the Judiciary, Railroads, Intemperance, and many other important subjects, and that the Legislature itself will be so constituted as to secure to minorities a fairer representation than they now enjoy.

 

The balance in the State Treasury on the 15th of November, 1869, was $438,060.14; the receipts during the year were $4,399,932.53; making the total amount of available funds in the Treasury during the year $4,837,992.67.

 

The disbursements during the year have been $4,071,954.57; leaving a balance in the Treasury November 15, 1870, of $766,038.10. 

 

The estimates of the Auditor of State for the current year are as follows:

 

Estimated receipts from all sources, including balances, $5,670,205.10; estimated disbursements for all purposes, $5,163,976.01; leaving an estimated balance in the Treasury November 15, 1871, of $506,229.09.

 

The public funded debt of the State on the 15th of  November, 1869, after deducting the amount invested in loans not yet due, was $9,855,938.27.  During the last year there has been redeemed of the various loans, and invested in loans not yet due, the sum of $123,860.36, leaving the total debt due November 15, 1870, $9,732,077.91.

 

The Fund Commissioners were prepared to pay off a larger amount of the debt than has been actually discharged during the year, but none of the bonds of the State were due, and some of the holders demanded ten or twelve per cent, premium, and others refused to surrender their bonds at any price.

 

The constant and rapid increase of taxation demands consideration.  The following table, showing the taxation for different purposes in 1860 and in 1870, and the increase of taxation in ten years, sufficiently exhibits the nature and extent of the evil:

 

AMOUNT OF TAXES LEVIED.

 

For what purpose.                                1860                            1870                  Increase

 

County taxes                            $1,309,137 46             $1,975,088 71             $665,951 25

Bridge taxes                                  437,538 40               1,474,148 18            1,036,609 78   

Poor taxes                                     260,607 20                  657,116 42               396,509 22

Building taxes                                228,444 13                  733,960 73               505,516 60

Road taxes                                    394,424 77               1,199,767 26               805,342 49

Railroad taxes                                538,869 50                  461,848 72               -------------

Township taxes                              349,360 86                  734,585 65               385,224 79

Township and sub-district

   and district school taxes           1,487,247 44                4,960,771 87            3,473,524 43

Other special taxes                        349,236 33                1,152,335 09               803,098 76

City and town taxes                    1,506,083 86                5,447,766 96            3,941,683 10

Delinquent taxes                            453,013 46                   667,188 96               214,175 23

 

Other than State taxes                 7,313,963 41               19,464,578 28           12,227,635 65

State taxes                                  3,503,712 93                 4,666,242 23             1,162,529 30

 

Totals                                     $10,817,676 34             $24,130,820 51         $13,390,164 95

 

This table shows that in ten years the State taxes have increased thirty-three per cent, and that local taxes have increased almost one hundred and seventy per cent; in other words, that less than one-tenth of the increase has been in State taxes, and more than nine-tenths in local taxes.

 

The increase of local taxation has been far greater than the growth of the State in business, population, or wealth.  It is not to be doubted that this burden has grown to dimensions which seriously threaten the prosperity of the State.

 

No full and exact statement can be made from the official reports as to the amount annually collected from the property-holders of the State in the form of special assessments for what are termed local improvements, but it is certain that this burden is also great and rapidly growing.

 

The Auditor of State reports cases in which such assessments have been made, amounting to half of the cash value of the property on which they were levied, and, in one case, which he refers to, the assessment was double the value of the property.

 

In respect to these evils it is undoubtedly easier to find fault than to provide a remedy.  No single measure will remove them.  Probably no system of measures which the General Assembly can adopt will of themselves accomplish what is desired.  A complete reform is impossible, unless the City, County, and other officers are disposed and thoroughly competent to do the work of cutting off every unnecessary expenditure.

 

Much, however, can be accomplished by wise legislation.  Let the General Assembly firmly adhere to the policy of the Constitution, and refuse to enact special laws granting powers to tax or make assessments.  Let such powers be exercised only in pursuance of general laws.  Local authorities should be empowered to levy no higher rate of taxation than is absolutely required for practical efficiency under ordinary circumstances.  In extraordinary cases general laws should provide for the submission of the proposed tax or assessment to the people to be affected by it, under such regulations that it cannot be levied unless at least two thirds of the taxpayers approve the measure.    

 

One of the most valuable Articles of the present State Constitution is that which prohibits the State, save in a few exceptional cases, from creating any debt, and which provides for the payment at an early day of the debt already contracted.  I am convinced that it would be wise to extend the same policy to the creation of public debts by County, City, and other local authorities.  The rule, “pay as you go,” leads to economy in public as well as in private affairs, while the power to contract debts opens the door to wastefulness, extravagance and corruption.

 

In the early history of the State, when capital was scarce and expensive, public works were required for transporting the products of the State to market, public debts were probably unavoidable.  But the time, I believe, has come when not only the State, but all of its subordinate divisions, ought to be forbidden to incur debt.  The same rule on this subject ought to be applied to local authorities which the Constitution applies to the State Legislature.  Experience has proved that the power to contract debt is as liable to abuse by local boards as it is by the General Assembly.  If it is important to the people that the State should be free from debt, it is also important that its municipal divisions should not have power to oppress them with the burden of local indebtedness.

 

It would promote an economical administration of the laws if all officers, State, County, and Municipal, including the Members of the Legislature, were paid fixed salaries.

 

Under the existing laws, a part of the public officers are paid by fees, and a part by fixed annual salaries or by a per diem allowance.  The result is great inequality and injustice.  Many of those who are paid by fees receive a compensation out of all proportion to the services rendered.  Others are paid salaries wholly inadequate.  For example, many County officers, and some City officers, receive greater compensation than the Judges of the Supreme Court of the State.  The salaries paid to the Judges ought to be increased; the amount paid to many other public officers ought to be reduced.  To do justice, a system of fixed salaries, without fees or perquisites, should be adopted.  The people of Ohio will, without question, sustain an increase of the salaries of Judges and of other officers who are now inadequately paid.  But it can probably best be done as a part of a system which would prevent the payment to public officers of enormous sums by means of fees and perquisites.  To remove all ground of complaint, on account of injustice to present incumbents, the new system should apply only to those elected after its adoption.

 

In addition to considerations already presented in favor of a revision of the rates of taxation which local officers and boards are authorized to levy, another controlling reason is not to be omitted.  By the recent revaluation of real estate the total basis of taxation for the State at large will probably be increased almost forty per cent, and in many of the cities the increase will be nearly one hundred per cent.  This renders it imperatively necessary to revise the present rates, so as to prevent the collection and expenditure of sums much greater than the public good demands.

 

Under prudent and efficient management the earnings of the Penitentiary continue to exceed its expenses, and, at the same time, gratifying progress has been made in improving the condition and treatment of the prisoners.  The hateful and degrading uniform of past years is disappearing; increased means of education, secular and religious, are afforded, and the officers of the institution exhibit an earnest desire to employ ever instrumentality authorized by existing laws to restore its inmates to society improved in habits, capacity and character.

 

While much has been done in our State during the last twenty-five years for the improvement of prison discipline, it is not to be denied that much more yet remains unaccomplished.

 

Assuming that the time has not arrived to attempt a radical change of our prison discipline, the following practical suggestions, consistent with the present system, are offered for your consideration:  A convict is now allowed a deduction from the period of his sentence as a reward for good behavior; the power to extend the period of the sentence as a reward for good behavior; the power to extend the period of the sentence as a punishment for bad conduct would also, under proper regulations, exercise a wholesome influence in the discipline of the prison.

 

The importance of classification among convicts is now universally admitted.  For economical or other reasons the establishment of an intermediate prison will perhaps be deemed inexpedient at this time.  It is believed, however, that by employing convict labor the additional buildings and improvements required for a satisfactory classification, can be erected on the ground adjoining the old prison, recently purchased and now enclosed, at a small expense compared with the cost of a new prison.  This plan, it is hoped, will receive your careful consideration.

 

It is also recommended that the board of State Charities be empowered to aid discharged convicts to obtain honest employment.  An annual appropriation of a small sum for this purpose, in the course of a few years, would probably save a large number, who, without such help, would again return to a criminal course of life.

 

The most defective part of our present prison system is probably our County Jails.  It is supposed about 8,000 persons pass through our County Jails each year.  They are generally persons charged with crimes and awaiting trial.  But lunatics and petty offenders, in considerable numbers are also confined in these places.  The young and the old, the innocent and the guilty, hardened offenders and beginners in crime, are commonly mingled together in the jails, under few restraints, without useful occupation, and with abundant leisure, and temptation, to learn wickedness.  The jails have been fitly termed nurseries of crime.  Plans of jails, not too expensive, have been furnished by the Board of State Charities, which provide for the absolute separation of the prisoners.  It is recommended that the law shall require all jails to be so constructed as to entirely prevent this promiscuous and dangerous intercourse.

 

Your attention is particularly called to the recommendation of the Board of State Charities, that the proper authorities of all of the cities of the State should be required to make full reports, annually, to the Legislature, through the Governor, of the statistics of vice and crime, and of the work of the Police Department in such cities.  And also to the suggestion that Prosecuting Attorneys should not be allowed to enter a nolle prosequi in any case of an indictment for a crime punishable by imprisonment in the Penitentiary or by death, without the written approval or the Attorney General first given upon a written report to him of the facts.

 

The importance of this is sufficiently shown by the fact that in 1869 the number of cases in which a nolle prosequi was entered exceeded fifteen hundred.

 

The Girls’ Reformatory at White Sulphur Springs contains forty-nine inmates, and it is now demonstrated that the number is likely to increase as rapidly as the welfare of the institution will allow.  Whatever doubts may have been reasonably entertained, as to the necessity for such an institution, prior to its establishment, the report of the Directors and Superintendent, and a thorough investigation of the facts, will, it is believed, satisfy you that the institution is a very important one, and ought to be liberally supported.

 

The report of the Superintendent and Trustees of the Soldiers’ Orphans’ Home will engage your earnest attention.  The duty of providing for the education and support of the children of the soldiers of Ohio who fell in the war for the Union, was fully recognized by the resolutions and acts of your last session.  It is not doubted that your action was in accordance with the will of the people of the State, and they earnestly desire that the duty of caring for the soldiers’ orphans shall be performed in a manner that will worthily express the affection and gratitude with which these wards of the State must ever be regarded by a just and patriotic community.  I, therefore, respectfully recommend that the legislation deemed necessary by the Board and Officers in charge of the institution be enacted as promptly as practicable.

 

The report of the Geological Survey, to be laid before you, exhibits the encouraging progress of that work.  The future growth of Ohio, in wealth and population, will depend largely on the development of the mining and manufacturing resources of the State.  Heretofore, our increase in capital and numbers has been chiefly due to agriculture.  Important as that great interest will always be in Ohio, the recent census shows that we may not reasonably anticipate, in future, rapid growth in population or wealth, from agriculture alone.  Without calling in question the great and immediate benefit to accrue to agriculture from the geological survey, it is yet true that the tendency of its exhibition of our vast mineral wealth, is to encourage the employment of labor and capital in mining and manufacturing enterprises.  Let the work be continued and sustained by ample appropriations.

 

It is necessary that the General Assembly, at its present session, should adopt the requisite legislation to carry into effect the following requirement of the Constitution: Sec. 3, Article 16, of the Constitution provides that “at the general election to be held in the year one thousand eight hundred and seventy-one, and in each twentieth year thereafter, the question, ‘Shall there be a Convention to revise, alter, or amend, the Constitution?’ shall be submitted to the electors of the State, and in case a majority of all the electors voting at such election shall decide in favor of such a Convention, the General Assembly, at its next session, shall provide by law for the election of delegates and the assembling of such Convention.”

In conclusion, I feel warranted in congratulating you on the favorable judgment of your constituents upon your action on the important subjects which were considered at your last session, and in expressing a confident hope that what remains to be done will, under Providence, be so wisely ordered that the true interests of all of the people of the State will be greatly and permanently advanced. 

 

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