Rhode Island Policy Reporter

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A look at the lousy situation Rhode Island is in, how we got here, and how we might be able to get out.

Budget Demystification!
Fiscal Derring-Do!
Economic Jiggery-Pokery!

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RIPR is a (paper) newsletter and a weekly column appearing in ten of Rhode Island's finer newspapers. The goal is to look at local, state and federal policy issues that affect life here in the Ocean State, concentrating on action, not intentions or talk.

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whole site RIPR back issues

Available Back Issues:

  • Aug 09 (38) - How your government's economic policies have worked against you. What a fake nineteenth century nun can teach us about the tea party protests.
  • Jun 09 (37) - Statistics of optimism, the real cost of your government. Judith Reilly on renewable tax credits. Review of Akerlof and Shiller on behavioral economics.
  • Apr 09 (36) - Cap and trade, the truth behind the card check controversy, review of Governor's tax policy workgroup final report.
  • Feb 09 (35) - The many varieties of market failures, and what classic economics has to say about them, review of Nixonland by Rick Perlstein.
  • Dec 08 (34) - Can "Housing First" end homelessness? The perils of TIF. Review of You Can't Be President by John MacArthur.
  • Oct 08 (33) - Wage stagnation, financial innovation and deregulation: creating the financial crisis, the political rhetoric of the Medicaid waiver.
  • Jul 08 (32) - Where has the money gone? Could suburban sprawl be part of our fiscal problem? Review of Bad Money by Kevin Phillips, news trivia or trivial news.
  • Apr 08 (31) - Understanding homelessness in RI, by Eric Hirsch, market segmentation and the housing market, the economics of irrationality.
  • Feb 08 (30) - IRS migration data, and what it says about RI, a close look at "entitlements", historic credit taxonomy, an investment banking sub-primer.
  • Dec 07 (29) - A look at the state's underinsured, economic geography with IRS data.
  • Oct 07 (28) - Choosing the most expensive ways to fight crime, bait and switch tax cuts, review of Against Prediction, about the perils of using statistics to fight crime.
  • Aug 07 (27) - Sub-prime mortgages fall heaviest on some neighborhoods, biotech patents in decline, no photo IDs for voting, review of Al Gore's Against Reason
  • Jun 07 (26) - Education funding, budget secrecy, book review of Boomsday and the Social Security Trustees' Report
  • May 07 (25) - Municipal finance: could citizen mobility cause high property taxes? What some Depression-era economists had to say on investment, and why it's relevant today, again.
  • Mar 07 (24) - The state budget disaster and how we got here. Structural deficit, health care, borrowing, unfunded liabilities, the works.
  • Jan 07 (23) - The impact of real estate speculation on housing prices, reshaping the electoral college. Book review of Blocking the Courthouse Door on tort "reform."
  • Dec 06 (22) - State deficit: What's so responsible about this? DOT bonding madness, Quonset, again, Massachusetts budget comparison.
  • Oct 06 (21) - Book review: Out of Iraq by Geo. McGovern and William Polk, New rules about supervisors undercut unions, New Hampshire comparisons, and November referenda guide.
  • Aug 06 (20) - Measuring teacher quality, anti-planning referenda and the conspiracy to promote them, affordable housing in the suburbs, union elections v. card checks.
  • Jun 06 (19) - Education report, Do tax cut really shrink government?, Casinos and constitutions, State historic tax credit: who uses it.
  • May 06 (18) - Distribution analysis of property taxes by town, critique of RIEDC statistics, how to reform health care, and how not to.
  • Mar 06 (17) - Critique of commonly used statistics: RI/MA rich people disparity, median income, etc. Our economic dependence on high health care spending. Review of Crashing the Gate
  • Feb 06 (16) - Unnecessary accounting changes mean disaster ahead for state and towns, reforming property tax assessment, random state budget notes.
  • Jan 06 (15) - Educational equity, estimating the amount of real estate speculation in Rhode Island, interview with Thom Deller, Providence's chief planner.
  • Nov 05 (14) - The distribution of affordable houses and people who need them, a look at RI's affordable housing laws.
  • Sep 05 (13) - A solution to pension strife, review of J.K. Galbraith biography and why we should care.
  • Jul 05 (12) - Kelo v. New London: Eminent Domain, and what's between the lines in New London.
  • Jun 05 (11) - Teacher salaries, Veterinarian salaries and the minimum wage. Book review: Confessions of an Economic Hit Man
  • Apr 05 (10) - Choosing a crisis: Tax fairness and school funding, suggestions for reform. Book review: business location and tax incentives.
  • Feb 05 (9) - State and teacher pension costs kept artificially high. Miscellaneous tax suggestions for balancing the state budget.
  • Dec 04 (8) - Welfare applications and the iconography of welfare department logos. The reality of the Social Security trust fund.
  • Oct 04 (7) - RIPTA and DOT, who's really in crisis?
  • Aug 04 (6) - MTBE and well pollution, Mathematical problems with property taxes
  • May 04 (5) - A look at food-safety issues: mad cows, genetic engineering, disappearing farmland.
  • Mar 04 (4) - FY05 RI State Budget Critique.
  • Feb 04 (3) - A close look at the Blue Cross of RI annual statement.
  • Oct 03 (2) - Taxing matters, a historical overview of tax burdens in Rhode Island
  • Oct 03 Appendix - Methodology notes and sources for October issue
  • Apr 03 (1) - FY04 RI State Budget critique
Issues are issued in paper. They are archived irregularly here.

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The Rhode Island Policy Reporter is an independent news source that specializes in the technical issues of public policy that matter so much to all our lives, but that also tend not to be reported very well or even at all. The publication is owned and operated by Tom Sgouros, who has written all the text you'll find on this site, except for the articles with actual bylines.


Creative Commons License Tom Sgouros

Tue, 28 Jun 2005

Ok, he won

Now that the Governor essentially got everything he wanted in this year's state budget, what do you think he will use for his speeches? He can't go around declaring that he is powerless against the insiders and the unions any more, can he?

13:11 - 28 Jun 2005 [/y5/jn]

The war on science

There's an interesting set of articles here about the politicization of science. Enjoy.

13:10 - 28 Jun 2005 [/y5/jn]

Thu, 23 Jun 2005

Gosh, what a delight

So the House Finance sent its budget to the floor. Essentially no more money for schools than the Governor proposed, and a puny tax cut for anyone whose car is worth more than $4,500. What a pleasure to have a House leadership so committed to carrying the Governor's water. What's that, you say? You say they're his opposition? Funny way to show it.

09:34 - 23 Jun 2005 [/y5/jn]

Sat, 18 Jun 2005

The moral high ground

It wasn't exactly napalm, but apparently we did lie about it. To the members of the "Coalition of the Willing," among others. Aren't you glad the US is such a beacon of freedom, humanity and open government?

17:33 - 18 Jun 2005 [/y5/jn]

Thu, 16 Jun 2005

We agree with the Governor

It happens sometimes.

Carcieri Defends the Workers' Compensation Fund

Governor Carcieri has expressed his strong opposition to passage of a bill (H-6530) to transform Beacon Mutual Insurance Company from a public corporation established for the good of the people of Rhode Island into an entirely different entity.

The bill proposes keeping Beacon a mutual insurance company but eliminating its place as a "non-profit independent public corporation." Beacon's creation a decade ago was a vital element of the restructuring of the troubled worker's compensation system in Rhode Island, and its overwhelming presence in that market remains a economic factor today.

This bill relaxes regulatory requirements and significantly impacts Beacon Insurance's current rating structure, replacing it with an unproven formula. It weakens public participation on the board of directors and restricts public hearings on rate increases, while permitting Beacon to take great risks in new, out-of-state markets.

The Governor has called on legislative leaders to vote down this measure and preserve the success it created in the 1990's.

Beacon, as it is, is one of the real policy successes of the past fifteen years. Messing with it would be giving in to the same kind of impulses as brought us the credit union crisis. If the directors aren't content running a small insurance pool whose purview is only RI businesses, then we should find us some new directors. Ambition is often a fine thing, but around here, hubris is the more common story.

18:11 - 16 Jun 2005 [/y5/jn]

Tue, 14 Jun 2005

Supply side realism

One of the first steps to making progress in the tax debate in RI is to be honest about what is going on. Here's one attempt at establishing honesty about a member of the tax-cutting pantheon.

11:52 - 14 Jun 2005 [/y5/jn]

Mon, 13 Jun 2005

Yum yum

See here for some tidbits (oh, sorry) about the mad cow reported in Sunday's papers.

As reported down in the article, the cow in question was actually detected last November, but the USDA only thought to mention it last week after the diagnosis was confirmed by the standard test. Why they waited so long to confirm is not addressed in the article. One begins to doubt that the USDA has only consumers' best interest at heart. Shocking, I know.

For more about the USDA's scandalous "testing" regimen, see last year's food issue of RIPR.

12:41 - 13 Jun 2005 [/y5/jn]

Bad ideas on the march

Another Projo op-ed about cutting the income tax. The time has come, they say:

THE RHODE ISLAND Public Expenditure Council believes that now is is the time to reduce the state's personal-income tax and make a downpayment on improving the state's tax position in the region.

Etc etc etc...

As I pointed out below a plan like this is a tax cut for the rich, and a hike on everyone else, since no one expects property taxes to abate their march up and up and up without action from the state. It is no surprise that RIPEC is promoting such a plan, but why should anyone go along with it?

If RIPEC wants to improve our tax position in the region, they should work harder to enact living-wage ordinances, and to increase the minimum wage. As the current issue of RIPR documents (subscribe here), RI's blue-collar jobs pay substantially less than their counterparts in Connecticut and Massachusetts. Perhaps that's why our tax position is "unfavorable" relative to those states. Have they considered that? Have you?

12:10 - 13 Jun 2005 [/y5/jn]

Fri, 10 Jun 2005

What budget?

We learn from the Projo not just that a math error and a program oversight mean the state has much less money to spend this year and next than it though it did. But we also learn that the new contract the Governor is negotiating with state employee unions might cost as much as $43 million more than he budgeted. This is only a fraction of a percent more than he'd budgeted, but it's interesting that the Governor seems unable to negotiate down the employees who work for the state, but he seems to think that the school committees who do the same are spineless wimps.

11:21 - 10 Jun 2005 [/y5/jn]

Thu, 09 Jun 2005

What's the matter with New England

A report from the New England Council Reports on the economic health of New England. (Press release, Report) The report, written by the consulting firm AT Kearney has a lot to say about how New England can become more prosperous. It talks about increasing investment in public higher education — including community colleges and vocational education — shoring up transportation infrastructure, including public transportation, working to create strategic alliances between large groups of businesses, and dealing with the housing crisis.

From the press release:

A.T. Kearney identified five engines of economic growth including regional networks and collaborations; education; regional brand; infrastructure and structural costs; and demographics and immigration.

"In many of these areas we found New England facing challenges," said Michael Roepel, a vice president in A.T. Kearney's Cambridge office. "The challenges include high infrastructure and structural costs; a lag in rankings of value of the education system, with a need to focus more energy on lifelong learning and raise the prominence of public universities; and the fact that the New England "brand" lacks distinction within the U.S. The region is also facing challenges in demographics — an aging workfarce with slow or no labor force growth."

It says nothing at all about taxes. The people who want to will find taxes as part of the "structural" costs mentioned in the release and report. And they'll completely ignore the prominence of the recommendation to raise the value of the public colleges and universities, or the part about investing in low-income housing. Because that's the way our debate works around here. But congratulations to the Projo for skipping that part.

09:40 - 09 Jun 2005 [/y5/jn]

Wed, 08 Jun 2005

Everything you know about RI is false

What do you really know about Rhode Island? Did you know, for example:

  • There are places in 27 other states where the sales tax is higher than it is here in Rhode Island.
  • Our state tax burden is not the highest in the country, except by some very strange calculations.
  • Rhode Island has the eighth-highest paid teachers in the country, but we also have the seventh-highest paid accountants, the fifth-highest paid veterinarians, and the third-highest paid pharmacists.
  • Like veterinarians and accountants, our teachers are paid wages comparable to similar jobs in Massachusetts and Connecticut, but our cashiers, house painters and cleaners are paid far less than their counterparts in those states.
  • Cutting the income tax while allowing property taxes to rise is a tax cut for the very rich, and a terrible deal for everyone else.
  • Property tax collections over the past 15 years have risen much more slowly than income tax collections. But the income tax rates have declined over that time, while the property tax rates have skyrocketed.
  • The Governor (and Treasurer) are holding the costs of teacher and state employee pension payments artificially high this year.
  • ...And that all of the above matter far more to a family trying to get by in Rhode Island than whether a Supreme Court Justice is moonlighting on a military tribunal.

These facts are from just a few of the articles that have appeared in the last few months of the Rhode Island Policy Reporter.

Join our crack team of analysts as they look at different aspects of state and federal government policy. What you'll find in our pages doesn't always reflect the conventional wisdom, but if the conventional wisdom were always correct, wouldn't we be living in an earthly paradise?

Why not subscribe, and help that crack team of analysts find out more stuff like this? Won't that feel good?

And if you're going to an event where you know people who might be interested in RIPR, give them a back issue (archived to the left), or leave a few copy of this flyer lying around. Thanks.

12:14 - 08 Jun 2005 [/y5/jn]

Fri, 03 Jun 2005

Come listen

This coming Sunday, I am to be a guest on WHJJ/920 AM, talking about taxes and funding public education and other stuff. Expect to hear relatively incendiary stuff, at least by the standards of todays constricted debate. (See below, and the April issue, too.) The show is from 1 to 3, and I think it's call-in. Listen, and please call in.

Oh, and the May issue will be out on Monday. Ok, so it's June. Sue me.

  • Teacher salaries - are they paid too much? Rhode Island has the fifth highest-paid veterinarians in the country. What about them?
  • Using usury - third world debt and Rhode Island, a review of Confessions of an Economic Hit Man

Wouldn't now be a good time to subscribe?

01:15 - 03 Jun 2005 [/y5/jn]

Wed, 01 Jun 2005

APC info

Look here for court filings about American Power Conversion's tax case.

12:00 - 01 Jun 2005 [/y5/jn]

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