Steven Rattner, who worked for the Obama administration restructuring the auto industry and who reportedly has the Securities and Exchange Commission on his case for the Chooch situation, lands on the front page of today's Vineyard Gazette (the last Tuesday issue before the paper reverts to weekly publication until next summer). The issue now is a horse farm, Crow Hollow Farm, that Mr. Rattner, according to the Gazette article, recently bought for $2.3 million.
The question before a local government body on Martha's Vineyard is whether the work Mr. Rattner is doing on the property is consistent with an "agricultural preservation restriction" on the property that gives Mr. Rattner a tax break. "For several years now, the land bank has not entered into APRs over horse farms on the basis that they amount to recreational rather than agricultural use," the article says. But the APR on Crow Hollow Fram predates that policy shift.
The Gazette quotes one of Mr. Rattner's neighbors, Purdy Burt:
"The idea of a millionaire being able to buy into an APR protected piece of land and then use it for his private recreational use, while enjoying the tax benefits . . . I do find a little offensive," she told the land bank commission.
Tara Whiting, who also is a member of the conservation commission, said she was frustrated that the land bank had not been more "proactive" in monitoring what the Rattners were doing with the farm.
"We have a long history with the Rattner family of violation after violation after violation," Ms. Whiting said.
There are several ways to look at this story.
One, Mr. Rattner is being singled out for criticism because he is "a millionaire." That runs counter to the idea of equal treatment under the law for everyone.
Two, it shows some of the potential problems with the government using the tax code to try to encourage people to do certain things, such as agriculture, with their property. What starts as an effort to preserve family farms from encroaching development winds up as an endeavor in which poorer residents of a town who pay full property taxes wind up subsidizing the riding rings of those who can afford them.
Three, it's possible that the "violations" of which Mr. Rattner is accused are the sort of thing where the government has so many rules that's it's impossible for anyone to even know what they are, let alone obey them. It's also possible, though, that it's a case of Henry Stern's Park Rule 16-J (the J is for Michael Jackson): "Nobody does it once."
The other day Mr. Rattner had an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal complaining about income inequality. Now, it appears, he's getting a taste of the consequences of the rich-versus-everyone-else zero-sum-game view that he himself propounded. Poetic justice? The world-view Mr. Rattner expressed in the Journal article doesn't seem to allow him a principle on which he can defend himself. Maybe now that Mr. Rattner has gotten a taste of what it's like to be singled out for special adverse treatment on the grounds that he is a "millionaire," he'll reconsider.