1902 Encyclopedia > Italy > Internal Administration

(Part 24)


Internal Administration

It was not till 1865 that the administrative unity of Italy was realized. Up to that year some of the regions of the kingdom, such as Tuscany, continued to have a kind of autonomy; but by the laws of 20th March the whole country was divided into 69 provinces and 8545 communes. The extent to which communal independence had been maintained in Italy through all the centuries of its political disintegration was strongly in its favour. By the new law the communal council was to consist of 80 members if the commune had more than 250,000 inhabitants, of 60 members if more than 60,000, oi 40 if more than 30,000, of 30 if more than 10,000, of 20 if more than 3000, and in all other cases of 15. It was found by the census of 1861 that the first category was represented by only 1 commune, the second by 12, the third by 34, the fourth by 265, the fifth by 1762, and the sixth by 6471. As many of the communes, especially in the north, were found to have a very small population, a considerable number of them have been wisely incorporated with others. The syndic (sindaco) or chief magistrate of the commune is appointed by the king for three years, and he is assisted by a "municipal junta" consisting of ten assessors and four substitutes for the communes of the first category, and of 8 + 4, 6 + 2, 4 + 2, and 2 + 2 respectively in those of the others. The communal council meets in ordinary course twice a year. Eligibility for office as a councillor is determined very much by the same considerations as affect the political suffrage, the main criterion being the amount of direct taxes paid. All those in receipt of communal salaries are excluded, and, if a sufficient number can be obtained without them, all who are unable to read.

The provincial councils consist of 60, 50, 40, or 20 members, according as the population exceeds 600,000, 400,000, or 200,000, or falls below this last number. Each council elects its own president; its sessions, which in regular course occur once a year, are opened and closed by the prefect or his substitute in the king's name. The term of office for the provincial council is five years. A "provincial deputation" or standing committee, appointed by the council, acts under the presidency of the prefect as the representative of the same throughout the year.

The various sections of the local governments—municipal, communal, and provincial councils—are left remarkably free from interference on the part of the central authorities. There is a prefect in every province, but, to quote Gallenga's words, he is little more than the head of the provincial police. In point of local influence the syndic, who in the large cities is usually a nobleman or distinguished statesman, is the more important functionary.

The principal law regulative of communal taxation is that of July 3, 1864. By this the communes were allowed, not only to impose independently of the state an additional tax or super-impost (sovrimposta) on the articles already subjected to the national octroi, but also to charge a local customs duty on other articles of meat and drink, on forage, fuel, building materials, soaps, fatty matters, and other objects of the same class. Italy thus took rank, says Alessio, as one of the European countries in which the greatest liberty of taxation was granted to the local corporations. Further licence has been since conceded, in 1869, 1870, &c. In 1877 the total income of the communes amounted to 228,733,014 lire or nearly £9,115,000, and of this sum 38'71 per cent, was furnished by the communal octroi proper (dazio consume), 31 '24 by the super-impost on the land, 6'10 per cent, by the hearth-money or fuocatico, 3'27 by the tax on cattle and horses, and the remainder by a variety of taxes on public and private conveyances, dogs, domestics, riding and carriage horses, &c. A tax on photographs and insigne, first rendered legal in 1875, and only adopted by a few of the communes, is the least valuable on the list. Foreigners, except when they really take up permanent residence in a commune, are for the most part exempted from the local taxation. The effect of many of the taxes, especially as applied by the short-sighted local policy, has proved highly prejudicial to the development of industries. The tax, for instance, on wood and coal tells against the glassworks of Venice, the potteries of Florence, the gold and silver work of Milan. At Voltri taxes are paid on nearly all the raw materials of the cotton industry, on the coal, the petroleum, the oil, the very flour needed for the dressing of the stuffs, &c. Paper is taxed in many towns (at Bologna as much as 7 per cent.), at Genoa not only paper but printed matter, at Reggio Emilia types and printing machines. There is often a most extraordinary difference in the amount imposed on the same article : every quintal of wax for stearine candles, for example, pays 5 lire in one city, 10 in another, 40 in a third. In many cases, as at Bergamo, Como, Parma, &c., the result is that the factories show a tendency to locate themselves outside of the communal limits. [Footnote 464-1]

And in spite of this superabundant taxation the debts of the communes are unusually numerous, and in some instances give rise to grave concern. Italy has the honour of being the first of European nations to furnish regular returns in regard to the whole department of provincial and communal debts ; and the light thrown by these on the state of the local finances is very instructive. At the inquiry in 1873 it was found that the total of the debts of the communes amounted to 545,129,128 lire, and that of the provinces to 54,401,390. By 1877 these figures had increased to 707,551,255 for the communes, and 90,073,603 for the provinces. Nearly the half of the communal increase of 162 millions was due to the two cities of Florence and Naples, the former being responsible for 36,933,905 lire of the increase, and the latter for 36,726,188 lire. The state of the Florentine finances is particularly noteworthy. It is estimated that the dazio consumo cost every inhabitant 3011 lire in 1877, and 31.58 in 1878 (the only other chief cities with similar amounts being Genoa, with respectively 33 and 27 1/2 lire, and Borne with 28 1/2 and 29 1/2), and the total communal taxation is stated at 54 lire per head. On March 18, 1878, Florence suspended payment of the capital and three months later of the interest on its debts, which amounted to about 160,000,000 lire. A royal commission was appointed in June 1879 for the liquidation of the debt, and it put into operation a scheme by which the debt will be cleared off by 1939. Full details will be found in the Report of the British Consul for Florence, 1880, or in Mr Anthony Trollope's interesting survey in the British and Foreign Quarterly Review, 1879. The other cities where the local customs press heaviest on the citizens are Palermo and Catania (20 lire), Leghorn (nearly 20), Siena (19), Pavia (18), Milan (17), Turin (16). Among those that suffer least are Belluno, Arezzo, and Sondrio. At the close of 1878 it was calculated that the quota of the communal debt for every individual would amount to 913.62 lire at Florence, to 309.60 at Pisa, to 274 at Genoa, to 248.52 at Naples, and that on an average of all the capoluogi or provincial chief towns the quota would be 140-96 lire. See Statistica dei debiti communali at 1° Gennaio 1879 (Rome, 1880).


464-1 See G. Alessio, "L'imposta del dazio consumo in Italia," in Annali di Stat., 1880.

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