Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 30.djvu/322

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306
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

There are, however, two features of this subject which I am not willing to pass in silence:

1. As to that class of quasi public corporations, such as street and elevated railways, ferries, gas companies, and the like, which derive all their privileges from the municipal government and are subject to its control. From modest beginnings these organizations frequently grow to vast proportions, and their plant and franchise become a most valuable property.

When first introduced the popular demand for this class of improvements ordinarily enables these companies to secure specially favorable terms from the municipality. As time passes they become thoroughly established and wealthy, even if they do not become arrogant and defiant. Their contributions to the revenues of the city, however, continue to be based on the favorable conditions under which they were first brought into existence, and in no sense amount to a fair return for the privileges and immunities granted to them. In all such cases the city might be protected by reserving to itself a fair proportion of the receipts of these companies, which should be in lieu of all other forms of taxation.

Under such an arrangement the tax on the corporations would be determined by their own prosperity, being light when their earnings were small, and larger with their increased ability to pay, and the city would receive a just return for the benefits it conferred.

2. I would call attention to the exemption of certain property from the payment of its share of the public burdens, I refer to the elaborate and costly church edifices which are so prominent a feature of every large city. Though I do not believe that the position is logically sound, nevertheless it is in accordance with the traditions of this people, and in harmony with the principles on which our State and national governments are founded, that buildings used for public worship should be exempted from taxation, and to this practice, as applied to modest structures of reasonable value, I do not offer any opposition. But it seems to me to be clear that the magnificent structures which abound in all our large cities can not claim a place in this category.

It is scarcely a proper use of language to denominate them houses of public worship. Though they are nominally open to the public, still their appointments, their furnishings, the style of their services, their practically reserved seats, the restrictions as to the time of admission of any except pew-holders, and the accommodations provided for the public, all warrant the statement that they are really the private religious club-houses of wealthy parishioners, whose right to erect and maintain and enjoy them is unquestionable, but whose right to do all this at the public expense is by no means so apparent.

These institutions share in all the benefits of the city government, are guarded by its police, are protected by its fire department, are approached by streets lighted, cleaned, and paved at its expense, and, in