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Road Taxes

tax, roads, toll, usually, labor, paid and property

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ROAD TAXES. How shall the expense of constructing and maintaining roads be distributed? This question has been answered in various ways in different parts of this country and in different countries of Europe. There are three forms of road taxes; viz.: (1) a tax upon the traveler, (2) a capitation tax, and (3) a prop erty tax. The first leads to toll roads: and the second is usually called a poll-tax.

Toll Roads.

These are conducted on the theory that the travelers over a road are the recipients of its benefits and should pay for its support. Toll roads are justifiable only in a new country where the amount of taxable property is small, and where for long stretches of territority there are few inhabitants, since they induce the investment of capital that possibly the pioneer or the new community could not afford; and even under these conditions they are practicable only where there is considerable traffic. In early times the government collected the toll and used it for the main taining and extension of the road; but in recent times toll roads are usually in the hands of private capitalists.

Toll roads are objectionable owing to the proportionally great expense of collecting the revenue, and owing to the fact that they are managed solely with reference to securing returns upon the capital invested and without regard to the interests of the public. The only remedy for the evils of the system is for the public to support the roads. Roads are an indispensable public convenience —a benefit to every citizen, whether a direct user of the road or not,—and consequently should be maintained by a universal tax. At present the toll system is regarded as unwise for both economic and political reasons; and toll roads have almost entirely been abolished both in this country and in Europe.


Notwithstanding the fact that most writers on political economy consider a capitation tax an undesirable form of taxation, nearly all of the states levy a poll-tax for road purposes. Apparently it is the only capitation tat. It is not wise to occupy space here to inquire into either the wisdom or reason for this form of road taxes.

Almost universally the law permits the payment of the poll road-tax in money or labor, and it is usually paid in labor. In the poorer and less populous states, this tax is nearly the sole support of the road system. In many states there are numerous exemp

tions, and in all states the tax is difficult to collect, and consequently the poll-tax is an unimportant element in road construction and maintenance.

Property Tax.

There are three forms of the property road tax: the special assessment, the direct tax, and the general tax.

In many states when any considerable road improvement is contemplated, part or all of the cost of the same is laid as a special tax or assessment on all real estate within some certain distance of the improvement. In Indiana at one time, this distance was two miles; and in Wisconsin, three. Ordinarily this tax is not uniform over the included area, but is graded according to the supposed benefits. This tax is usually payable in money.

In most of the states, the territory is divided into small units, called road districts, and a uniform road tax is laid upon all prop erty within the district. Usually this tax may be paid in either money or labor; and when so permitted, is usually paid in labor.

In most states there is also a general property tax for road and bridge purposes, which must be paid in money.

In poorer communities the roads are cared for principally by the district road tax, which is usually paid in labor; but in wealthier communities the general property road and bridge tax (cash tax) is greater than the district road tax (labor tax).

51. Cost of Roads. There are almost no definite data as to the amount expended for road purposes. The following are all that can be found.

In Massachusetts the average of the annual expenditures of the towns (townships), exclusive of the cities, for highways, exclusive of the bridges, for the years 1889, 1890, 1891, were as follows: * $22.17 per mile of road, the range for the different towns (townships) being from $2.20 to $191.00; *50.72 per square mile; or $0.46 per capita, the range being $0.06 to $4.68. In 20 per cent of the townships, the average annual expenditure was $5.40 per mile; in the next 27 per cent, $9.60; and in the next 18 per cent, $12.73. These were the expenditures before the inauguration of state aid 54). It is interesting to note that the per cent of the total tax receipts spent upon the roads is practically the same in the rural districts as in the cities, being 13.7 per cent in the former and 11.2 in the latter.

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