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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Deep archive


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

Fri, 29 Apr 2005

Pushing back

Last Monday the Providence School Committee refused to cut any more from the schools, and approved an unbalanced budget for next year. Now the Mayor has to figure out what to do, but the School Committee has made it clear that more cuts come out of bone, not flesh, and as advocates for the schools, they wish to have no part in the massacre.

23:36 - 29 Apr 2005 [/y5/ap]

Thu, 28 Apr 2005

Gore speaks

Speaking of the abuses of the press, Al Gore gave a tremendous speech yesterday, blasting the forces of the religious right, and the move to make all judges religious zealots. But you didn't read about it in the paper, did you? It's here and well worth reading.

12:30 - 28 Apr 2005 [/y5/ap]

Time cover

For the people who are most disappointed that Ann Coulter continues to be a prominent voice in what passes for our national discussion, it's worse than you thought. Read here.

It's not possible to get an accurate picture of what's happened to our politics without looking at what's happened to our press. And it's sad. A couple of days ago, I listened to Texas Senator John Cornyn "say the thing that is not" (in the delicate language of Swift's Houhnhnyms) in an NPR interview. And I waited for the reporter to call him on it. And waited.

11:36 - 28 Apr 2005 [/y5/ap]

Tue, 26 Apr 2005

Wow, specifics

At last, a specific agenda for a Democratic Congress. In all the handwringing about the fate of liberalism and "morality" voters that we've had to endure since the election, a basic point seemed to be lost. A platform is a set of things you intend (or would like) to do. A platform is not a mood or a concept or a slogan. In the last election, the Democratic platform was pretty hard to discern. Though it definitely existed, and it definitely contrasted significantly with the Republican platform, it was also definitely not front and center, presumably for reasons of too-clever-by-half strategy.

The agenda at the link is not terribly specific in some important places, either. But putting a document like this out front and center is a great relief, and probably not only to us policy nerds.

14:11 - 26 Apr 2005 [/y5/ap]

Another mystery of life

A story in yesterday's Projo. Presumably these stickers have something in common with the male display of peacock feathers. Perhaps that's why they're issued in the spring?

(Photo by Projo's Andrew Dickerman)

10:24 - 26 Apr 2005 [/y5/ap]

The wrong argument

In today's NY Times, John Tierney seeks to persuade us of George Bush's benevolence by travelling to Chile and interviewing someone who profited from Chile's privatized pension scheme. But in a system like Chile's, where individuals bear the risks, there are winners and losers. Mr. Tierney's friend is one of the winners, but the losses of the losers have pressured the government into setting a guaranteed pension level. (See here.) By now the costs of taking care of the losers are a significant chunk of Chile's general revenue. Chile's system may be a good one, but it is not a cheap one. Retirement benefits are more generous in Norway, too. Why not interview someone there?

No one would dispute that there are ways to make Social Security benefits more generous. But many of us object to the duplicitous way in which the President's Social Security "reform" plan is being sold to the public. Columnists unable to make these distinctions are doomed to write pointless columns, and then wonder why their readers aren't persuaded.

10:24 - 26 Apr 2005 [/y5/ap]

Fri, 22 Apr 2005

Flat Tax?

But how much flatter can it get? See here.

Source: Citizens for Tax Justice, via the Christian Science Monitor.

19:42 - 22 Apr 2005 [/y5/ap]

Thu, 21 Apr 2005

New issue out


  • Q: What does tax fairness have to do with funding schools? A: More than you think.
  • A quiz about the growth in state and local taxes over the past 15 years. Which has grown fastest? Which slowest?
  • Book review: Rethinking Growth Strategies, from the Economic Policy Institute, which is quite a handy guide for people who are bothered by tax giveaways in the name of economic development.

Don't you just want to subscribe?

Apologies are due for its late mailing — confusion with the printer is to blame. If you are a subscriber, it should be in your mail today or tomorrow.

13:20 - 21 Apr 2005 [/y5/ap]

Thu, 14 Apr 2005

An event next Friday

Check out this flyer.


AS220 Presents:

Our Starving Schools:
A forum on how to feed our underfunded public education system

Join us for a public discussion on Friday April 22 at 5:30pm at AS220 with:
Stacey Jordan, Mayor's Special Ass't for Education
David Segal, Councilman
and Tom Sgouros Jr.

Did you know:

  • That Rhode Island's economy is currently outpacing the rest of New England's?
  • That RI has tens of thousands of jobs that we didn't have fifteen years ago, but still around the same number of people?
  • That our economy is half again as large as it was in 1990, despite two recessions?
  • That state income tax collections are up almost 7% from last year? And last year they went up 10% from the year before?

Now that you know, doesn't it seem odd that school systems around the state are laying off teachers and closing buildings? Why are they in crisis? If this is what happens in an expansion, what will they do during the next recession?

For decades, we've watched successive Governors and legislatures try to avoid dealing with school funding. Each year they find a way to put off establishing a fair and adequate way to finance public education in Rhode Island, and each year the situation becomes just a little bit worse. Property taxes rise, disparities rise, anger rises. And the education of our children suffers.

It's time to stop waiting for the formation of a Blue-Ribbon commission, and come up with some solutions of our own. Join us at AS220 on Friday, April 22 at 5:30pm for the first of a series of discussions about pressing State and City policy initiatives.

AS220 is located at 115 Empire St. Providence, RI 02903 http://www.as220.org --- 401-831-9327

Come one, come all. See you there.

15:49 - 14 Apr 2005 [/y5/ap]

Wed, 13 Apr 2005

Tax fudge

I see that the IRS has stopped publishing statistics about rich taxpayers. The Statistics of Income tables, which researchers use to look at the effects of tax laws, no longer break out any incomes over $200,000. That is, they used to publish statistics about incomes between $200,000 and $500,000, between $500,000 and $1 million, and over $1 million. Now they publish all of them together.

What they do publish allows me to see that between 2001 and 2002, the Bush cuts were worth $100 million to the approximately 8000 richest Rhode Islanders. This is about a 10% tax cut. By folding the categories together, the IRS hides the fact that people who are just barely in that bracket didn't do as well as the astronomically rich.

(And it's not just because we're a small state. The tables for all states reflect the new reality, which apparently is that that reality is to be frowned upon.)

00:17 - 13 Apr 2005 [/y5/ap]

Tue, 12 Apr 2005


Sometimes newspapers make the point for you. (From Americablog.) All these articles report on the same meeting.




09:15 - 12 Apr 2005 [/y5/ap]

Mon, 11 Apr 2005

Unhealthy numbers

If you'd like to see some real numbers about US health care costs, and outcomes, look here. It's not very pretty, though.

22:05 - 11 Apr 2005 [/y5/ap]

Wait, wait.

Legislation to require a 24-hour waiting period for abortions has reared its head.

One notable feature of the bill is the requirement that the doctor to perform an abortion be identified by name on the phone. This is in opposition to security procedures in place at RI clinics.

It also requires the provision of pamphlets, a web site, and a 24-hour hotline to provide information that isn't really accurate. But there are specs about how many pixels per inch the illustrations are to be. The fiscal note from the health department says that creating and distributing the information would cost around $500,000 per year. Just what we need: half a million to distribute inaccurate information instead of funding schools.

People who think the best way to eliminate some practice is to outlaw it would do well to read the abstract of a study published in JAMA a few years ago. The study was to examine the effects of a 24-hour waiting period on Mississippi women seeking an abortion. The finding was that the waiting period decreased the abortion rate in Mississippi, but:

For all women, RRs of the percentage of abortions performed after 12 weeks' gestation increased 39% more in Mississippi than in either South Carolina or Georgia... We also show that the percentage of abortions performed out of state increased 42% more among women in Mississippi relative to women in South Carolina after the law.

So the number of late-term abortions actually increased, and more people had to travel for medical care they couldn't get at home.

A hearing on this bill is scheduled for the House Judiciary Committee, Tuesday at 4:30, Rm 35.

11:52 - 11 Apr 2005 [/y5/ap]

Wed, 06 Apr 2005

A scandal

It's nothing but a scandal when the Governor keeps the pension costs to cities and towns higher than it needs to be, and then runs around the state doing this:

Beating the Drum for Pension Reform

Governor Carcieri is taking his call for pension reform to the people who pay the bills — taxpayers. In a Governor's Town Meeting set for Warwick next week, he will spell out the cost of doing nothing. Without the governor's pension reform proposals Warwick taxpayers will pay an extra $1.7 million in the next fiscal year.

"Next year alone, Warwick 's pension costs for teachers are set to increase from approximately $6 million to nearly $9 million. That's a 33 percent increase in one year! At the same time, the state bill for maintaining the pension system will rise from $118 to $174 million. The citizens of Warwick cannot afford that kind of increase year after year. We must begin to slow the growth of our pension costs."

The bear market in 2001-2003 was the cause of much of the increase but the Governor himself bears responsibility for around 20% of the pension increases this year. (Details here or here -- caution: math) Because no reporter does math, this will go unexamined this year.

It may well be that pensions need reform. The teachers I know tend to agree with the Governor. But the Governor is not being honest when he says he's concerned about the cost of pensions. If he was, he and the treasurer would act to reduce their cost. This could be done with the stroke of a pen, and would not endanger any bond ratings or cause anyone to look askance at our management. The Governor is forcing all the cities and towns (and the state) to appear more fiscally responsible than anyone asks us to be. For Warwick, this is as much as $700,000 or so.

18:46 - 06 Apr 2005 [/y5/ap]

Mon, 04 Apr 2005

Well what do you know?

Thomas Friedman, NY Times columnist, notices that there are creative and capable people in the rest of the world, and that you can't limit globalization to the manufacturing of goods. That is, you send your factories overseas, and pretty soon, someone there is going to notice some way to improve your product, or your factory. And then you lose the economic race.

The "logic" of globalization has been, for many years, to assume that we could export the means of production without exporting the intellectual capital necessary to establish and use those means. In other words, we let other people manufacture our goods, but we keep the "important" part of the company — the innovation, the inventions, the marketing — here at home. But this view has always rested on an obscenely low estimate of the intelligence and drive of the people in those other countries. It's as if to say, it's safe to send the manufacturing to China, because they'll never be the innovators we are.

Are we entitled, then, to some scorn when someone like Friedman "discovers" this isn't really, um, true? That's "discover" in the same sense that Columbus discovered an America already quite well populated, thank you very much. But there's nobody here but us fuzzy-headed radicals, so I don't imagine pundits like Friedman will notice.

12:28 - 04 Apr 2005 [/y5/ap]

Fri, 01 Apr 2005

Will we turn back from the brink in mid-air, or when we're at the bottom?

I read that my town's school committee feels it has to come up with $600,000 in cuts again to meet the town council's target. Whether or not the Gov gets his pension reform, my town's pension costs next year are going to go up, by a lot. If he gets his reforms, it will go up by less, of course, but so what? Once the school system is cut to the bone, who cares what size is the additional burden? In David Copperfield, Mr. Micawber said, "Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery."

His point: when you're cutting it that close, sixpence additional is enough to create a tragedy.

I think the only real question at this point is whether the town pushes back at the state when the school system is devastated, or after. I'm not saying that this year's cuts are devastating, though I'll reserve judgment until next year. But the logic of the situation — and the players — will force us all to this outcome. It sure seems unlikely that the town will cavil until the school system can take no more.

Once again, this is a crisis of choice. The state is rich enough to have good schools, good services and good roads. But a combination of bad information and the ubiquity of conservative conventional wisdom have robbed us of the state we ought to have.

22:46 - 01 Apr 2005 [/y5/ap]

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