U.S. Supreme Court
Covington v. Kentucky, 173 U.S. 231 (1899)
Covington v. Kentucky
Submitted January 18, 1899
Decided February 20, 1899
173 U.S. 231
This Court is bound by the construction put by the highest court of the Kentucky upon its statutes, referred to in the opinion of the Court, relating to exemptions from taxation of property used for "public purposes," however much it may doubt the soundness of the interpretation.
The provision in the Act of the legislature of Kentucky of May 1, 1886, c. 897, that "the said reservoir or reservoirs, machinery, pipes, mains and appurtenances, with the land on which they are situated," which the City of Covington was, by that act, authorized to acquire and construct "shall be and remain forever exempt from state, county and city tax" did not, in view of the provision in the Act of February 14, 1856, that
"all charters and grants of or to corporations, or amendments thereof, and all other statutes, shall be subject to amendment or repeal at the will of the legislature unless a contrary intent shall be therein plainly expressed, "
which was in force at the time of the passage of the Act of May 1, 1886, tie the hands of the Commonwealth of Kentucky so that it could not, by legislation, withdraw such exemption and subject the property to taxation.
Before a statute -- particularly one relating to taxation -- should be held to be irrepealable or not subject to amendment, an intent not to repeal or amend must be so directly and unmistakably expressed as to leave no room for doubt, and it is not so expressed when the existence of the intent arises only from inference or conjecture.
A municipal corporation is a public instrumentality established to aid in the administration of the affairs of the state, and neither its charters nor any legislative act regulating the use of property held by it for governmental or public purposes is a contract within the meaning of the Constitution of the United States, and if the legislature choose to subject to taxation property held by a municipal corporation of the state for public purposes, the validity of such legislation, so far as the national Constitution is concerned, cannot be questioned.
The case is stated in the opinion.