APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Madison County; the Hon.
JAMES O. MONROE, Judge, presiding.
MR. JUSTICE HOUSE DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:
Rehearing denied September 27, 1965.
Twelve railroads filed objections to taxes levied against their operating properties in Madison County for the years 1957 to 1962 inclusive, and seek a return of that portion of the taxes paid under protest. They contend that their Illinois property was assessed at full value while the equalized value of locally assessed property did not exceed 55% of full fair cash value in any of the tax years involved, and that the discrimination is so gross that it is constructively fraudulent against them.
The objections were consolidated for hearing by the circuit court of Madison County. It found that locally assessed property, after equalization, had been assessed at county-wide levels from 48.14% to 51.40% of fair cash (full) value, that the railroads properties were likewise undervalued at 58% to 85% of full value and that the disparities were so great as to constitute gross discrimination against objectors. The refunds ordered were not in dollar amounts but in percentages and the parties were to make the computations. The measure of refund was the difference between the railroads' taxes and the amounts they would have paid if all property in the county had been assessed at full value. The amount of each such refund was limited by (a) giving effect to any other refunds (from excess rates and the like) and (b) the amount of the protest. Jurisdiction was retained to approve or correct the computations and to "implement" the process of refund. The railroads perfected these 46 appeals directly to this court. The Collector has not appealed from the orders finding the percentage debasement of locally assessed property, nor has he cross-appealed from the findings of gross discrimination against the railroads or the orders for refund.
This is the second case in the series of railroad objection cases which have not contested the debasement of locally assessed property as disclosed by the ratio studies of the Department of Revenue. (See People ex rel. Korzen v. Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad Co., Docket No. 38942.) The only issue, therefore, is whether the railroads' properties were assessed at full, fair, cash value for the years in question. This should involve only a question of fact, to be viewed in the light of the law as developed and crystallized through a succession of these cases. While the Collector recognizes and appears to accept the principles developed in People ex rel. Hillison v. Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad Co. 22 Ill.2d 88; People ex rel. Kohorst v. Gulf, Mobile and Ohio Railroad Co. 22 Ill.2d 104; People ex rel. Dallas v. Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad Co. 26 Ill.2d 292; People ex rel. Wenzel v. Chicago and North Western Railway Co. 28 Ill.2d 205; People ex rel. Enrietta v. Gulf, Mobile and Ohio Railroad Co. 29 Ill.2d 605, and earlier decisions, there is woven into the fabric of his argument in applying the law to the evidence the constantly recurring theme that the Directors of Revenue have, since 1949, sought to do equity through debasement of railroad values by the application of their judgment and thereby "hold the line" against widening the gap between State assessed railroad property and locally assessed property. Thus, while giving lip service to our approval of valuation methods (in some cases the same railroads' objections were before us for the same years here involved), the net result is an indirect attack upon those methods.
This whole argument is predicated upon the theory that in the prior cases the background evidence was insufficient to reveal the valuation methods at the State level over an extended period of time. In counsel's language: "The magnitude of the new explanatory evidence and the insight it permitted led the trial court to a consideration of several legal points which this Court was not called upon to confront in the four prior cases [Hillison, Kohorst, Wenzel and Enrietta] because of the limited records, including the presumption of constitutional compliance by the Directors."
There has been offered by the Collector much evidence by way of exhibits, some or all of which were not presented in one or more of the previous cases. For example, the ten annual reports of the Illinois Tax Commission covering the period 1933-1942 are in this record while the first five of such reports were not previously included; data sheets for all Illinois railroads from 1951 to 1963 are in evidence and in previous cases only those of the subject carrier and subject years were introduced, although expert testimony was predicated upon examination of all such sheets. In addition, annual reports of the Department of Revenue since 1945, annual reports to stockholders of various railroads, railroad information schedules returned to the Department, United States census data, Interstate Commerce Commission reports and procedures, graphs based upon exhibits and other documents have been offered. Many of the same exhibits have been introduced by both parties. Objections have been made by the railroads that some of the literature, price indices and other materials were never admitted in evidence. A stipulation provides for the admission of evidence without a foundation being laid and is sufficiently broad to encompass almost any public document, although it contains the limitation that all were subject to objection as to relevancy, materiality or competency. There is no point in ruling on each exhibit. It is sufficient to say that out of this welter of exhibits, making a record of gargantuan proportions, we have considered only those in the record or those of which we may properly take judicial notice.
The Department of Revenue took over railroad assessment and valuation duties of the Illinois Tax Commission subsequent to the adoption of the Revenue Act of 1939. During the taxable years in question and earlier, section 80 of the act, (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1961, chap. 120, par. 561,) provided that the Department determine and assess at fair cash value the operating properties of the railroads in this State. In doing so it was to take into consideration the market value of stock, bonds and other applicable indebtedness for the preceding 5 years; the net earnings for the preceding 5 years; "and such other information as the Department may consider as bearing on the fair cash value of the property: Provided, that the facts hereinbefore named shall not be conclusive upon the Department in determining the fair cash value of the property of a railroad company." The method used by the Department under this statutory directive is explained and illustrated in Chicago and North Western Railway Co. v. Department of Revenue, 6 Ill.2d 278 and Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad Co. v. Department of Revenue, 17 Ill.2d 376.
Three evidences of value: capitalized earnings, market value of stock and debt, and reproduction cost less depreciation have been in use, in varying degrees, at least since 1933. The Tax Commission's report for that year, commenting upon methods used to determine system values named the following: (1) original cost plus additions less depreciation or reproduction cost less depreciation; (2) capitalization of net earnings; and (3) stock and bonds value. It went on to say, "These three methods of valuation condition and limit each other so that a fourth method, which is a composite of the above or a weighting of the various factors previously enumerated, ought to be identified. The composite method rests upon the theory that no one valuation formula is satisfactory and that true values can only be determined by a consideration of all of the elements above enumerated. * * * Primary emphasis, it is believed, should be given to earnings and stock and bond quotations in the valuation process. It is felt that these are a better reflection of the current market value of a railway than original cost." It will be noted that the formulaic result obtained by taking the average of the three valuations was not recommended. Furthermore, subsequent annual reports show conclusively that the three factors were not given equal weight. (For example, railroad valuations varied from 58% above the straight average in 1933 to 1% below such average in 1939.)
The reports of the Tax Commission for 1939-1940 again referred to the three factors, pointing out the strengths and weaknesses of each. While recognizing the desirability of a formula, the use of judgment was said to be necessary in the following language: "The development of rules of procedure for analysis of pertinent data, therefore, evidences an improving standard of administration. Such a tendency does not necessarily imply the abandonment of all non-measurable elements of judgment and reduction of the process of arriving at an assessment to a mechanical formula. All through the process of determining an assessment the necessity for utilizing judgment arises, and in the final summary the `tangled impressions' act directly upon the result." (The term "tangled impressions" refers to Mr. Justice Holmes description of the process of arriving at valuations in Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad Co. v. Babcock, 204 U.S. 598, 51 L.ed. 636 where he said, "They express an intuition of experience which outruns analysis and sums up many unnamed and tangled impressions, impressions which may lie beneath consciousness without losing their worth.")
The Commission's last reports for 1941-1942 referred to the current upswing in railroad earnings and though stating that other factors (stock and debt and reproduction cost) were considered, nothing is said to indicate the use of a fixed formula.
The 1943-1945 combined reports by the Department and those for 1945-1949 shed little light on assessment methods. The latter indicate that the 1946 and subsequent railroad assessments were made in accordance with the full value assessment legislation adopted in 1945, and state, perhaps significantly, "Departmental assessments were made and certified to the local taxing districts at full value." Counsel for the Collector concedes that there is little available documentary information of the use of a formula during the 1940's and none after the early 1940's, except for a memorandum by Lynn A. Stiles dated January 28, 1949, (which was not then admitted) but which Stiles referred to when he testified. He stated that the fomulaic approach (average of the three factors) was closely followed in the years 1943-1949. However, his recollection was that the assessments varied 5% or 10%, plus or minus, from the formula and conceded "* * * but I would be more comfortable in recollection with a ten percent spread in (sic) either side."
The historical background does not support the Collector's thesis that a straight formulaic arithmetical approach has been adopted. It shows rather that judgment, whether designated by that term or not, has always been used in the valuation process. We now proceed to examine the evidence which according to the Collector's theory, establishes a "hold the line" policy since 1949.
Harry L. Hulman became Deputy Director of the Department of Revenue in 1961 and Director in September 1963, and participated in railroad assessments in 1961 and 1962. In both years a judgment factor was applied to the formulaic result. A total railroad valuation was fixed at 1 billion 32 million dollars for 1961 and at 999-plus million dollars for 1962. The judgment factor was said to vary among the railroads to achieve those total figures, not in an effort to keep the assessments level but to determine proper assessment. For the first and only time, so far as we are aware, the phrase "hold the line" was used when Director Hulman said, "* * * and more or less arbitrarily we took the figures and tried to hold the line as close as we could to the 1960 assessment until such time as we could delve into railroad assessment further and make a study of it." He testified that he examined all of the data sheets and that no one in the Department abused their responsibility in making the 1961 and 1962 assessments. He also testified to the method of assessment he used in 1963 to implement the 1963 amendment to section 80. The amended section is the same as heretofore quoted except that the Department is now to apply an equalization factor to full value, which factor is the State-wide average ratio of assessed value of locally assessed property to the full value of locally ...