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.

If you'd like to help, please contribute an item, suggest an issue topic, or buy a subscription. If you can, buy two or three (subscribe here).

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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

Sun, 27 Nov 2005

Housing issue out

Finally. Apologies all around.


  • Housing prices and the market. Is there something to be done?
  • Rhode Island's Low and Moderate Income Housing Act, a recap

Ran out of room for this table. These are the tax rates for Vermont's Land Gains tax, an anti-speculator tax on the capital gains from the sale of real property in Vermont. The tax rate depends on how long you've held the property, and on the profit you've made on the property. For example, if you've held the property for less than four months, but sold it for a capital gain of more than 200% of your basis, then the tax rate is 80%. Here are the rates. The three columns are for capital gains equal to 0-99% of the basis, 100-199%, and >200%. After six years, no tax.
< 4 months60% 70%80%
4 – 8 months35% 52.5%70%
8 months – 1 year30%45% 60%
1 – 2 years25% 37.5%50%
2 – 3 years20% 30%40%
3 – 4 years15% 22.5%30%
4 – 5 years10% 15% 20%
5 – 6 years5% 7.5% 10%

The tax in Vermont is pretty volatile, but raises over $4 million a year lately. A few years back, it was only around $500,000, though. The Vermont real estate market is just about equivalent in volume to Rhode Island's: $4.6 billion each, give or take.

The VT law is filled with exemptions, too, for owner-occupied, for affordable housing (non-profit) developers, and so on and on. Otherwise it would raise a lot more. There don't seem to be good data for how long property is owned, but the Census gives numbers for how long families tend to stay in one place. Using this as a basis, and being conservative, my guess is that, for RI, a tax that only hit capital gains of properties held under 6 years would still see around 200-300 million in taxable gains in years like this. So if the tax didn't change people's behavior, it could raise tens of millions pretty easily, depending on the rates. But a big part of the point would be to make speculators stop, so the collections would be a lot less.

22:51 - 27 Nov 2005 [/y5/no]

Tue, 22 Nov 2005

New issue due out soon

Posting has been light or non-existent while I struggle through some fascinating papers about the housing market. The issue out next is about housing. And why no one can afford it.

  • A look at the housing market: it's more interesting if you look at the statistics behind the medians.
  • A review of the Low and Moderate Income Housing Act, by Mike Lozano, of Elmwood Neighborhood Services.

Yes, a contributor. The first, but hopefully not the last.

21:24 - 22 Nov 2005 [/y5/no]

Will this make the front pages anywhere?

Apparently there was a Presidentail daily briefing on September 21, 2001 that is of interest, but no one will get to see it, apparently. Read about it here.

21:17 - 22 Nov 2005 [/y5/no]

Wed, 16 Nov 2005

We agree with the Governor

Again. Must be a pattern.

From the Governor's e-news:

"The rising cost of health care is a huge concern both for Rhode Island families and for Rhode Island businesses," Governor Carcieri said. "The results of this survey of employer-sponsored health insurance demonstrate that this problem is only getting worse, and is becoming a significant obstacle to economic development and to job growth in the Ocean State. Rhode Island businesses, particularly small businesses, are finding it increasingly difficult to offer health insurance to their employees. We cannot allow this trend to continue indefinitely."

Here, here. But what's the solution?

"This is a national problem that requires a national solution. But we must also do what we can within our own borders to enable businesses to offer their employees -- our citizens -- access to quality, affordable health coverage. This is good economic development policy, and it is good human policy."


"Last month, I unveiled a series of five initiatives designed to help begin to deal with the underlying issues that have caused health care costs to rise so dramatically... By promoting wellness, providing access to primary care, enhancing the use of information technology, making it easier for small businesses to provide health coverage, and using public sector purchasing to drive the health care market, we can make a significant difference in the way Rhode Islanders access and use health insurance," he concluded.

Count us among the underwhelmed. I mean it's a red-letter day when the government acknowledges the terrible economic effects of our health-care "system," but the diagnosis is only half the battle. The cure proposed here might work, but not soon, and these measures can only have the effect of trimming slightly, not causing fundamental change. These are the kinds of policies that, applied conscientiously over a generation, could make a huge difference. But what am I supposed to do in the meantime?

(For more about the fundamental problems in the way health insurance is run, see RIPR issue 3.)

16:37 - 16 Nov 2005 [/y5/no]

Wed, 09 Nov 2005

Good election news from Texas

Yesterday, voters in Texas approved a ban on gay marriage. It turns out that the amendment reads like this:

Sec. 32. (a) Marriage in this state shall consist only of the union of one man and one woman.

(b) This state or a political subdivision of this state may not create or recognize any legal status identical or similar to marriage.

Others have noted that it seems as if they forgot to say that marriage itself, so defined, is legal in Texas. In those reports, I had imagined they were critiquing the ballot language, and ignored the criticism. But those were the actual words, and, exactly as they appear above, are now an actual part of the Texas Constitution. But doesn't it look to you like a statute that defines something in order to prohibit that something?

The amendment language seems to say that traditional heterosexual marriage, since it meets the definition in (a) can't be recognized by the state of Texas under (b). Presumably a civil union between two men or two women would also not be recognized, since it meets condition (b) of being similar. But the amendment doesn't say what "similar" should mean. Maybe a union of two men isn't similar to a marriage between a man and a woman. After all, there's no woman involved, so how could it be "similar?"

One wonders if the Texas legislature (where the amendment was written) has any lawyers on their staff. But somewhere in Texas, I'm sure that a couple of people are planning to have a lot of fun in the courts with this. So, since I don't live in Texas, I don't count this as bad election news at all.

13:17 - 09 Nov 2005 [/y5/no]

Fri, 04 Nov 2005

More surprises.

A study published in the journal Health Affairs examined sick people in our health care system, and others around the world, and found:

Americans pay more when they get sick than people in other Western nations and get more confused, error-prone treatment, according to the largest survey to compare U.S. health care with other nations.

The survey of nearly 7,000 sick adults in the United States, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Britain and Germany found Americans were the most likely to pay at least $1,000 in out-of-pocket expenses. More than half went without needed care because of cost and more than one-third endured mistakes and disorganized care when they did get treated.

Although patients in every nation sometimes run into obstacles to getting care and deficiencies when they do get treated, the United States stood out for having the highest error rates, most disorganized care and highest costs, the survey found.

The survey was funded by the Commonwealth Fund, and you can read it here.

11:52 - 04 Nov 2005 [/y5/no]

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