Boswell v. State, Case Number: 27935

CourtSupreme Court of Oklahoma
Writing for the CourtOSBORN, C. J.
Citation1937 OK 727,181 Okla. 435,74 P.2d 940
PartiesBOSWELL v. STATE et al.
Decision Date21 December 1937
Docket NumberCase Number: 27935

1937 OK 727
74 P.2d 940
181 Okla. 435

BOSWELL
v.
STATE et al.

Case Number: 27935

Supreme Court of Oklahoma

Decided: December 21, 1937


Syllabus

¶0 STATES - HIGHWAYS - Act Authorizing Issuance and Sale of Highway Revenue Anticipation Notes to Amount of $35,000,000 Held Unconstitutional.

Article 10, chapter 50, Session Laws 1937 (Senate Bill No. 205), authorizing the State Highway Commission to borrow money for the purpose of constructing roads and bridges and to issue and sell highway revenue anticipation notes in an aggregate amount not to exceed $35,000,000, and irrevocably pledging 40 per cent. of the three cents per gallon excise tax on gasoline referred to in section 2, chapter 126, Session Laws 1933, to the payment of the principal and interest of said notes as they become due, also conditionally pledging a portion of the motor vehicle registration and license taxes, contravenes the constitutional debt limit for the state as fixed by the provisions of sections 23, 24, and 25, article 10, of the Constitution and is unconstitutional and invalid in so far as it authorizes the issuance of said notes and diverts the said taxes therein specified into a separate fund to pay the same.

Original proceeding by A.V. Boswell against the State et al. to test validity of certain provisions of article 10, chapter 50, Session Laws 1937 (Senate Bill No. 205), and for an injunction enjoining the issuance of Highway Revenue Anticipation Notes contemplated by said act. Writ granted.

L.V. Orton, C.E. Mitchell, and Robert Burns, for plaintiff, A.V. Boswell.

Hugh M. Bland, for intervener, Dick Crookham.

C.C. Hatchett, pro se, intervener.

Mac Q. Williamson, Atty. Gen., Randell S. Cobb, Ass't Atty. Gen., John H. Miley, Special Atty., Thos. H. Owen, Allen G. Nichols, Wm. O. Coe, Don Welch, Peyton Ford, and William H. Miley, for defendants.

OSBORN, C. J.

¶1 The Sixteenth Oklahoma Legislature enacted Senate Bill No. 205, article 10, chapter 50, Session Laws 1937, which by its terms and provisions authorized the State Highway Commission to issue and sell highway revenue anticipation notes in an amount not to exceed $35,000,000 to procure funds for "constructing and reconstructing roads and bridges * * * upon the state highway system of the state." Forty per centum of the three cents per gallon excise tax levied by section 2, chap,. 126, Session Laws 1933, and conditionally a portion of the motor vehicle registration and license tax revenue, was diverted into a special fund and "irrevocably" pledged to the payment of said notes. The act was not submitted to the people for approval.

¶2 Plaintiff, A.V. Boswell, and interveners, Dick Crookham and C.C. Hatchett, have, in this original action, attacked the constitutionality of the act. The defendants are the State Highway Commissioners, State Auditor, and State Treasurer. The prayer of the petition is for an injunction to enjoin the issuance and sale of the notes.

¶3 The principal ground of attack is that the act is violative of the provisions of the Constitution which fix the "debt limit" of the state.

¶4 Various constitutional provisions are referred to in the briefs, but we will mention only those provisions which we deem to be controlling of the controversy. Section 23, article 10, of the Constitution provides:

"The state may, to meet casual deficits or failures in revenues, or for expenses not provided for, contract debts; but such debts, direct and contingent, singly or in the aggregate, shall not, at any time, exceed four hundred thousand dollars, and the moneys arising from the loans creating such debts shall be applied to the purpose for which they were obtained or to repay the debts so contracted, and to no other purpose whatever."

¶5 Section 24, article 10, of the Constitution provides:

"In addition to the above limited power to contract debts, the state may contract debts to repel invasion, suppress insurrection or to defend the state in war; but the moneys arising from the contracting of such debts shall be applied to the purpose for which it was raised, or to repay such debts, and to no other purpose whatsoever."

¶6 Section 25, article 10, of the Constitution provides:

"Except the debts specified in sections twenty-three and twenty-four of this article, no debts shall be hereafter contracted by or on behalf of this state, unless such debt shall be authorized by law for some work or object, to be distinctly specified therein; and such law shall impose and provide for the collection of a direct annual tax to pay, and sufficient to pay, the interest on such debt as it falls due, and also to pay and discharge the principal of such debt within twenty-five years from the time of the contracting thereof. No such law shall take effect until it shall, at a general election, have been submitted to the people and have received a majority of all the votes east for and against it at such election. On the final passage of such bill in either House of the Legislature, the question shall be taken by yeas and nays, to be duly entered on the journals thereof, and shall be: 'Shall this bill pass, and ought the same to receive the sanction of the people?' "

¶7 It is conceded that the control of the fiscal affairs of the state is a legislative function and that the power of the Legislature in the exercise of such control is plenary, subject only to constitutional restrictions and the power of the people to legislate by means of the initiative and referendum. This court is not concerned with the wisdom or expediency of the act. It is our sole function to determine whether or not the act contravenes the provisions of the Constitution.

¶8 The question presented to this court is, Does Senate Bill No. 205 authorize the creation of a debt against the state within the meaning of that term as used in the constitutional provisions?

¶9 The object of construction, applied to a Constitution, is to give effect to the intent of its framers, and of the people in adopting it. The intent is to be found in the instrument itself; and when the text of a constitutional provision is not ambiguous, the courts, in construing it, are not at liberty to search for its meaning beyond the instrument. Words must be given their ordinary and natural meaning.

¶10 Mr. Cooley, in his work on Constitutional Limitations, page 89, says:

"The object of construction, as applied to a written Constitution, is to give effect to the intent of the people in adopting it. * * * In interpreting clauses we must presume that words have been employed in their natural and ordinary meaning. As Marshall, C. J., says: 'The framers of the Constitution, and the people who adopted it, must be understood to have employed words in their natural sense, and to have intended what they have said.' This is but saying that no forced or unnatural construction is to be put upon their language, and it seems so obvious a truism that one expects to see it universally accepted without question; but the attempt is made so often by interested subtlety and ingenious refinement to induce the courts to force from these instruments a meaning their framers never held that it frequently becomes necessary to redeclare this fundamental maxim. Narrow and technical reasoning is misplaced when it is brought to bear upon an instrument framed by the people themselves, for themselves, and designed as a chart upon which every man, learned and unlearned, may be able to trace the leading principles of government."

¶11 If we are to give the words used their natural and ordinary meaning, we refer to Webster's New International Dictionary, where "debt" is defined as:

"That which is due from one person to another, whether money, goods, or services; that which one person is bound to pay to another, or to perform for his benefit; thing owed; obligation; liability."

¶12 Therefore, if we give the word "debt" its plain and ordinary meaning, we believe no one can doubt that the act in question authorizes the creation of a state debt. The bill provides for the issuance of notes, and it is common knowledge that a note is the evidence of a debt. As ordinarily understood, it is given for no other purpose. The notes bear interest. They mature at definite dates. They are promises to pay money. These are the attributes of debt.

¶13 We must, therefore, inevitably conclude that a "debt," within the prohibition of the above-quoted constitutional provisions, will be incurred under this act unless for some well-defined reason said constitutional provisions are otherwise inapplicable.

¶14 It is insisted by defendants that these constitutional provisions apply only to a debt where a direct property tax is levied for its payment, and that they do not apply where the full faith and credit of the state is not pledged, and that in said act it is provided that only a portion of the excise tax on gasoline and certain license taxes are pledged and paid into a special liquidating fund, and therefore the debt limitation provisions of the Constitution are not violated.

¶15 By section 12 of the act under consideration, it is provided that, in order to obtain funds to pay the principal and interest of the notes issued under authority of said act, 40 per centum of the three cents of the gasoline excise tax referred to in section 2, chapter 126, Session Laws 1933, shall be apportioned and credited to a special fund in the office of the State Treasurer, to be known as "State Highway Commission Note Fund of 1937", and that the principal and interest of said notes shall be payable solely from said fund and from the revenue deposited therein as therein provided, and said portion of said excise tax on gasoline is irrevocably pledged to the payment of the principal and interest of said notes. Conditionally, a portion of the motor vehicle registration and license tax revenue was pledged. Other provisions not deemed material to a determination of the question involved herein are contained in said section. By section 4 of the act...

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50 practice notes
  • Cottingham v. State Bd. of Examiners, No. 9869
    • United States
    • Montana United States State Supreme Court of Montana
    • July 15, 1958
    ...61 Idaho 281, 101 P.2d 1; People ex rel. City of Chicago v. Barrett, 373 Ill. 393, 26 N.E.2d 478; Boswell v. State, 181 Okl. 435, 74 P.2d 940; Hamilton's Appeal, 340 Pa. 17, 16 A.2d 32, 36; Boe v. Foss, S.D.1956, 77 N.W.2d 1, 9. Page 918 However, it should be noted that none of the above ju......
  • New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority v. McCrane
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (New Jersey)
    • May 12, 1972
    ...89Mont. 205, 296 P. 1033 (Sup.Ct.1931); State v. Steen, 183 Neb. 297, 160 N.W.2d 164 (Sup.Ct.1968); Boswell v. State, 181 Okl. 435, 74 P.2d 940 (1937); State ex rel. Washington State Finance Committee v. Martin, 62 Wash.2d 645, 384 P.2d 833 (1963); see Naftalin v. King, 257 Minn. 498, 102 N......
  • Oklahoma Capitol Imp. Authority, Application of, No. 90101
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Oklahoma
    • March 20, 1998
    ...exist under 73 O.S. Supp.1997 § 168.6. ¶49 The opponents of the bond issue urge the applicability of Boswell v. State, 1937 OK ----, 181 Okla. 435, 74 P.2d 940. A finding that these proposed bonds are constitutional does not require that we overrule Boswell. There, the Court acknowledged th......
  • Witzenburger v. State ex rel. Wyoming Community Development Authority, No. 4788
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • February 13, 1978
    ...Ill. 393, 26 N.E.2d 478; State Office Bldg. Commission v. Trujillo, 1941, 46 N.M. 29, 120 P.2d 434; Boswell v. State, 1937, 181 Okl. 435, 74 P.2d 940. The notice on the bonds does not preclude a finding that as a matter of fact and as a matter of legislative fiat, future tax money is offere......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
50 cases
  • Cottingham v. State Bd. of Examiners, No. 9869
    • United States
    • Montana United States State Supreme Court of Montana
    • July 15, 1958
    ...61 Idaho 281, 101 P.2d 1; People ex rel. City of Chicago v. Barrett, 373 Ill. 393, 26 N.E.2d 478; Boswell v. State, 181 Okl. 435, 74 P.2d 940; Hamilton's Appeal, 340 Pa. 17, 16 A.2d 32, 36; Boe v. Foss, S.D.1956, 77 N.W.2d 1, 9. Page 918 However, it should be noted that none of the above ju......
  • New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority v. McCrane
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (New Jersey)
    • May 12, 1972
    ...89Mont. 205, 296 P. 1033 (Sup.Ct.1931); State v. Steen, 183 Neb. 297, 160 N.W.2d 164 (Sup.Ct.1968); Boswell v. State, 181 Okl. 435, 74 P.2d 940 (1937); State ex rel. Washington State Finance Committee v. Martin, 62 Wash.2d 645, 384 P.2d 833 (1963); see Naftalin v. King, 257 Minn. 498, 102 N......
  • Oklahoma Capitol Imp. Authority, Application of, No. 90101
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Oklahoma
    • March 20, 1998
    ...exist under 73 O.S. Supp.1997 § 168.6. ¶49 The opponents of the bond issue urge the applicability of Boswell v. State, 1937 OK ----, 181 Okla. 435, 74 P.2d 940. A finding that these proposed bonds are constitutional does not require that we overrule Boswell. There, the Court acknowledged th......
  • Witzenburger v. State ex rel. Wyoming Community Development Authority, No. 4788
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • February 13, 1978
    ...Ill. 393, 26 N.E.2d 478; State Office Bldg. Commission v. Trujillo, 1941, 46 N.M. 29, 120 P.2d 434; Boswell v. State, 1937, 181 Okl. 435, 74 P.2d 940. The notice on the bonds does not preclude a finding that as a matter of fact and as a matter of legislative fiat, future tax money is offere......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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