State v. Snyder

Decision Date15 February 1923
Docket Number1142,1139
Citation29 Wyo. 199,212 P. 771
CourtWyoming Supreme Court

Case No. 1139 is an original proceeding in mandamus on the relation of the county commissioners of Goshen County Wyoming, as plaintiff against John M. Snyder as State Treasurer. A demurrer was filed to the petition.

Case No. 1142 was brought in the District Court of Goshen County Wyoming, to enjoin the collection of a tax upon the property of the plaintiff W. T. Fox, an honorably discharged veteran of the World War, levied upon his property in said county assessed at a valuation of $ 250.00, it being alleged that plaintiff had no other property, real or personal, in the state. A demurrer was filed to the petition and on motion of the county treasurer the cause was ordered certified to the Supreme Court for its decision upon important and difficult constitutional questions, arising in said action. The two cases were heard at the same time and are disposed of in one opinion. The actions involved the validity of Section 2753 Wyoming Compiled Statutes 1920 as amended and re-enacted by Chapter 50, Section 1, Laws 1921, exempting from taxation the property of honorably discharged war veterans and their widows during widowhood, and of nurses who served during the World War. The Act further provides for reimbursement of each county by the state of the actual amount of the county tax on said property exemptions. The validity of an appropriation made by Chapter 170, Section 34 b, Laws 1921, for the purpose of making the reimbursements provided by the statute first mentioned, is also involved in the controversy.

Demurrer overruled.

David J. Howell, Attorney General, and W. L. Walls, Assistant Attorney General, for the demurrer in case No. 1139.

Defendant Snyder as State Treasurer has been substituted for A. D Hoskins, former State Treasurer. The relator seeks by an original proceeding in mandamus to require defendant to reimburse Goshen County to the amount of the county tax revenues of which said county was deprived by the operation of Chapter 50, Laws 1921, being an amendment of Section 2753 C. S. 1920, exempting to the amount of $ 2,000 the property of war veterans, their widows, during widowhood, and nurses who served during the World War. Defendant has demurred to an alternative writ issued on said petition. Defendant contends that the statute is unconstitutional and in conflict with Article 3, Section 36, Constitution, prohibiting state donations. (39 P. 1090.) The appropriation made at the same session of the legislature to reimburse counties on account of loss of revenue occasioned by said exemption statute is also involved for the same reason. The appropriation is benevolent in character. (1 Words & Phrases 754.) Counties are corporations within the meaning of the constitutional provisions referred to, 1300 C. S. 1920; neither the state nor any county, city, township, town, school district or other political subdivision, is permitted to loan or give its credit, or make donations to individuals, associations or corporations, except for the support of the poor. (Article XVI, Section 6.) This is not a donation for the support of the poor. A donation to the county is merely an indirect method of making the donation, since the exemption claimant is the beneficiary. Gifts or donations of public funds cannot be made by the legislature, (Pelty v. Colgan, 31 P. 1133,) construing the California Constitution almost identical in terms; in re Relief Bills, 39 Colo. 1090, involving the same question under a similar constitutional provision. Counties are not under the control of the state. The money is a gift to reimburse the county for possible losses it may sustain and is prohibited by the Constitution.

E. H. Reid, J. M. Roushar, E. J. Plunkett, H. K. Huber, J. L. Sawyer, contra, in case No. 1139.

The purpose of the Act is to discharge an obligation to men and women who have performed military service. This obligation has been recognized by most of the states in one way or another, Wyoming electing to meet it by certain tax exemptions. The effect of the statute is a payment by the state to the exempted men or women of an amount equal to their taxes for the then current year; it is not a gift. Counties are used by the state merely as a pocket from which certain sums were taken and replaced by the state. It was intended that the burden should be separated in such a way as to be equalized irrespective of the number of service men who might reside in any particular county. The state under this law confers a privilege or immunity upon individuals for the performance of military service. The law is not within the prohibition contained in Article XVI, Section 6, or Article III, Section 27 of the State Constitution since the payment is not a donation, but a payment made for a public purpose. (State v. Johnson, 170 Wis. 218, 175 N.W. 589; Broadhead v. Milwaukee, 19 Wis. 624; State v. Handlin, 38 S.D. 555; Franklin v. Examiners, 23 Cal. 173; Leonard v. Wiseman, 31 Md. 201; Gustafson v. Rhinow, 175 N.W. 903; Opinion of Justices, 211 Mass. 608.) The question was thoroughly considered in the Washington case of State v. Clausen, 194 P. 793, 13 A. L. R. 580, holding the pivotal question to be whether the money was devoted to a public purpose. In this case the payment, while made to the county, was, in fact, made to the individual service men or women to whom exemption had been allowed, which is a public purpose and therefore, not within the prohibition of the Constitution.

Harvey J. Cregan, for defendant's demurrer in case No. 1142.

Plaintiff Fox, by petition in the District Court of Goshen County sought to enjoin the county treasurer from collecting a tax on his property which he claimed to be exempt under Section 2753 C. S. 1920, as amended by Chapter 50, Laws 1921. Defendant demurred; the cause is here on reserved constitutional questions.

1. The Act is in conflict with Article XVI, Section 6, prohibiting the state or any subdivision thereof from loaning, giving credit or making donations in aid of indivduals, associations or corporations. (People v. Westchester Nat. Bank, 231 N.Y. 465, 15 A. L. R. 1344; Beach v. Bradstreet, 85 Conn. 344, 62 A. 1030; Mead v. Akton, 139 Mass 341, 1 N.E. 413; Opinion of Justices, 186 Mass. 603, 72 N.E. 95; Opinion of Justices, 190 Mass. 611, 77 N.E. 820; Bush v. Orange Co., 159 N.Y. 212, 53 N.E. 1121; Washington Co. v. Birwick, 56 Pa. 466.)

2. The Act is also in conflict with Article XV, Section 12 of the Constitution, in that it is not a general law with reference to exemptions as required by said Section. (37 Cyc. 887; State v. Daniel, 49 P. 243.)

3. The Act violates the provisions of Article III, Section 27, prohibiting the enactment of local or special laws for the collection of taxes. (State v. Garbroski, 111 Ia. 496; City v. Anderson, 75 S.C. 62; State v. Sherman, 18 Wyo. 176.)

4. The Act violates the provisions of Article III, Section 27, prohibiting the legislature from relinquishing indebtedness, liabilities or obligations of any person or municipal corporation.

5. The Act is also in violation of Article III, Section 27, prohibiting the legislature from passing local or special laws exempting property from taxation. (Adams v. Oil Co., 53 So. 692; Cooley on Taxation, Vol. 1, p. 381; Cooley on Const. Lim. 7th Ed. p. 555; Millett v. People, 117 Ill. 294; People v. Township, 20 Mich. 452.)

It is true that the decisions are not in harmony as to whether a bonus granted for military service is a donation or a gift within the provisions of Section 5, Art. XVI. (See note, 7 A. L. R., 1644.) The Act was either a loan or a gift. (People v. Bank, 231 N.Y. 465.) There can be no distinction between paying a grant or making a gift from public funds in the treasury and donating a tax or tax liability due or to become due. (Bush v. County, 159 N.Y. 213.) The Wyoming Constitution clearly prohibits donations of this class. Tax exemptions must be made by a general law. (State v. Daniel, 49 P. 243.) The words "such other property etc." appearing in Article XV, Section 12, refer to property of the same general kind. The doctrine of ejusdem generis applies. The law is a special or local law since it selects war veterans, nurses and widows of soldiers as beneficiaries of the exemption. (State v. Garbroski, 111 Ia. 496.) It is respectfully submitted that the provisions of the Act in question are in violation of the Constitution and the reserved questions should be answered to that effect.

E. J. Plunkett, H. D. LaSalle, H. K. Huber, Roushar & Dwinnell and Vincent Carter, contra, in case No. 1142.

In the attack upon the statute numerous sections of the Constitution are invoked in the apparent hope that one or the other will suffice; this implies a reasonable doubt whether it was within any of the prohibitions of the Constitution referred to. If the case be free from any reasonable doubt, the law must be sustained. Every presumption is in favor of the validity of the statute. (Swan v. U.S. 3 Wyo. 151; Post v. U.S. 3 Wyo. 159; Slaymaker v Phillips, 5 Wyo. 453; Barkwell v. Chatterton, 4 Wyo. 307; Investment Co. v. Carpenter, 9 Wyo. 110; Bridge Co. v. Union Ferry Co., 29 Conn. 210; Kellogg v. Treasurer, 44 Vt. 356; Osborn v. Staley, 5 W.Va. 85.) The statute will be sustained if it be possible to do so by a reasonable construction of its terms. (11 Wyo. 128; 18 Wyo. 362; 25 Wyo. 367; Grenada Co. v. Brogden, 112 U.S. 261; Roosevelt v. Goddard, 52 Barb. 533.) The question of policy is for the legislature; its powers are supreme, except where restricted by constitutional limitations. (Helman v. Shoulters, 114 Cal. 136; State v. Corbet, 57 Minn. 345; State v. Hildenbrand, 62 Neb. 136; Purnell v....

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