Public Dollars for Business Benefits

An article in Monday’s Providence Journal by Kathy Gregg gives a name to one child-care provider who is in favor of bringing in the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) as a middleman between all such providers and the state agency that provides assistance to low-income families:

When asked about dues, the SEIU’s Emmanuel Falck provided this statement from Jean Bento, whom he described as a family childcare provider for 40 years in Tiverton who is active in the campaign to unite childcare providers in Rhode Island:

“Rhode Island’s family childcare providers will decide how much our dues will be, and we know that if we can improve childcare in Rhode Island, it will be worth it.”

The article goes on to suggest the possibility that the state will increase the subsidy that taxpayers provide to families on child-care assistance in order “to spare [providers] a pay cut.”  The idea, in other words, is to unionize all child care workers with clients who receive government assistance (whether or not a given provider wishes to be unionized) so they have the clout to require taxpayers at least to pay for the member services that the union will provide.

The Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth, and Families Web site listing home day care providers for families on assistance puts Jean Bento’s business at 4484 Main Rd., in Tiverton.  That is also the address of Pachet Brook Farm, one of Rhode Island’s largest Christmas tree farms.  In her capacity as owner of that farm, Mrs. Bento was also named, in a 2011 RI Catholic article by Brian Fraga, as a supporter of a national 15-cent tax on Christmas trees projected to raise $2 million for a proposed Christmas Tree Promotion Board.

In that case, Bento likened the tax to dues. The tax would differ from dues, however, inasmuch as no Christmas tree provider could opt not to pay the fee — or rather, no farm could opt not to force its customers to pay the tax.  The effort, in other words, was intended to force taxpayers to pay for the industry services that the board would provide, as opposed to a more usual arrangement whereby a promotional board (like a Chamber of Commerce or trade association) would convince individual businesses that its services were worth a small fee as a business expense.

When it comes to the taxation side of the equation, however, Mrs. Bento has appeared in the Fall River Herald advocating for special treatment of farmland (article by Kevin O’Connor). In the final budget passed by the General Assembly and signed by Governor Lincoln Chafee this year was a provision to assess farmland at its use value, rather than its market value, for the purposes of the estate tax.

That is, when handed down as part of an estate, a farm would be priced under the assumption that it would remain an active farm, valued at $13,000 per acre, according to O’Connor.  Previously, all land in the state was priced at the value it could command if sold on the open market without restriction, with a state average of $100,000 per acre of land for private homes.

In this case, Mrs. Bento (cited as the treasurer of the RI Farm Bureau) called the taxes “too expensive.”  Families were finding it necessary to sell off acres of their property to cover the estate tax.

The provision will be of huge value to Bento’s 90-acre Patchet Brook Farm.  Using the averages stated above, the new law will reduce the taxable value of Bento’s property from $9 million to $1.2 million, with tax savings around $900,000, using the current federal estate tax credit rates, on which Rhode Island estate taxes are based.

While they support a broad and substantial reduction of taxes and regulations, small-government advocates express concern about a system built on the practice of lobbying government for narrowly tailored special advantages. A recent Business Insider post showed that four of the six counties in the country with median income over $100,000 are in the metro area of Washington, D.C. Many see this as a result of government’s increasing role in all aspects of business and life.

“The estate tax should be eliminated for everyone,” says Mike Stenhouse, CEO of the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity (parent organization of the Ocean State Current). “There should be no special promotion with taxpayer dollars of the Christmas Tree industry, and home child care providers should not be unionized, nor should they receive special benefits paid for by the rest of us.”

An email addressed to Jean Bento via Pachet Brook Farm requesting comment received no reply.

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