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Available Back Issues:
Issues are issued in paper. They are archived irregularly here.
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
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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.
Tue, 30 May 2006
Late for Memorial Day
But all too appropriate.
14:42 - 30 May 2006 [/y6/my]
Mon, 22 May 2006
Is the Library Really Broke?
From Ellen Schwartz, a Providence CPA:
I am a resident of Washington Park and a volunteer tutor with the after
school homework club that used to meet at the Washington Park Branch of
the Providence Public Library (PPL). When the library informed the
residents that it was closing the branch because of structural damage to
the building due to an unrepaired leak in the roof, I could see first
hand the terrible effect it would have on the neighborhood. I am also a
Certified Public Accountant so I decided to take a look at their
financial statements to see why they had been too broke to fix the
All non-profit organizations have to file an informational tax return
called Form 990 with the Internal Revenue Service. All of the
information in this article is from tax forms filed by the PPL, which
are open to public inspection, and which are available on the Internet
For the most recent year posted, June 30, 2004, the PPL had an excess of
revenue over expenses (called profit in the business world) of over $2.6
million. For an institution with an annual budget of around $10 million,
this is not an indication of financial crisis-quite the contrary. But
since a single year could be misleading, I also looked at the tax
returns for the two previous years. Those two years also showed
"profits" of $710,000 and $459,000. But the PPL claims there is a
crisis so I decided to look further.
Profit is only one measure of an agency's financial health. I also
looked at the Balance Sheet of the PPL. The Balance Sheet shows what an
organization owns (such as cash, investments, buildings, computers,
books) and what is owes (unpaid bills and loans). The difference is
called net assets for non-profits, retained earnings for corporations,
and net worth for individuals. The library had net assets totaling $57
The tax return indicates that PPL has investments totaling $34 million
dollars. Around $14 million of this amount is the library's endowment.
Endowments are restricted by donors so that only the earnings can be
spent. This restriction has the force of law. In addition, RI state law
requires that a percentage of earning be retained to cover inflation-a
sort of "cost of living" adjustment for endowments.
The additional $20 million is unspent income from previous years and
constitutes the library's savings. As such, it could be used for any
purpose including fixing the leaking roof at the Washington Park
Branch. Unfortunately, the Board of Directors has decided to designate
this money to be used as if it were an endowment--that is, they decided
to spend some of the investment earnings but not the funds themselves.
This decision has no legal force; the Board can change this decision and
use these funds at any time. The Board has stated that not spending
this $20 million in savings is necessary to ensure the future of the
I am a great believer in fiscal responsibility. I think saving money
for the future is a great idea. But they are times when you have to dig
into your savings account-if your kids are sick, or your roof is
leaking, or you're thinking of closing two thirds of your branches. The
PPL could make all the needed repairs to all the branches without using
their endowment and still have savings.
The financial statements indicate that the library was in sound
financial health when the Board decided to forgo needed repairs and
close the Washington Park Branch. Now they're threatening to close
almost two thirds of the branch libraries. What do their budgets say
about their future financial health?
The PPL administration is claiming that it will have a $900,000 deficit
in its June 30, 2007 budget. When I looked at this budget I was
surprised to see that projected income was around $8.5 million for the
years ending June 30, 2006 and 2007. The average income for the last
five years was $10.5 million. What happened to the other two million?
City funding has remained steady and State funding has increased. I
then realized that the budget shows no income from the annual
fundraising campaign. Where was all the fundraising income?
The answer is complicated. In August the PPL incorporated a new
non-profit organization called the Providence Public Library Foundation.
One reason for doing this is that the foundation will not be required to
comply with the Open Meeting laws. All annual campaign donations will
go through this foundation and the Board of Directors of the foundation,
not the library Board, will decide (in secret meetings) how much of the
library's money to forward to the library. The only way to find out
how much money was donated to the foundation is to wait until their tax
return is filed. By setting up the foundation the library manages to
hide millions of dollars of their money from public scrutiny and make
themselves look much poorer than they are.
I love libraries. I think that libraries should be making it easier,
not harder, for people to read books. It makes me very sad to request
that the City withhold funds from the library until an investigation is
completed into PPL and a commitment is made by the library to follow its
Mission Statement and support the branch libraries in our community. At
the very least, the City has to right to insist that the funds that it
gives to the library be used to save the branch libraries in our poorest
15:49 - 22 May 2006 [/y6/my]
And a pony
15:48 - 22 May 2006 [/y6/my]
Tue, 16 May 2006
New issue out
With the usual apologies for tardiness:
- Who pays the property tax? A distributional analysis of 39 cities
- Dissecting another statistic: are our wealthy people really less
well off than in 1995? Could RIEDC really be correct about this?
- Nick Tsiongas: What's really the matter with health care in RI?
Is insuring the uninsured really the best way to fix it?
Didn't you mean to subscribe already?
Also, see here for
the table that wouldn't fit in the new issue.
11:20 - 16 May 2006 [/y6/my]
Sat, 13 May 2006
RIPR breaks into 20th-century media!
You can hear our views on taxation and Rhode Island's tax
"system" this month on
a cable show produced by the Institute on Labor Studies. The
discussion was held with Marcia Reback of the RI Federation of
Teachers and Health Professionals, and Marti Rosenberg, director of
Ocean State Action.
The show appears on Cox Channel 14, at these times:
|Tues,||May 23,||7-8 pm|
|Thurs,||May 25,||8-9 pm|
|Sat,||May 27,||5-6 pm|
|Tues,||May 30,||7-8 pm|
|Thurs,||June 1,||8-9 pm|
|Sat,||June 3,||5-6 pm|
15:12 - 13 May 2006 [/y6/my]
Quintiles of household income
A table that wouldn't fit in the new issue of the newsletter:
Quintiles of household income (estimated from 2000 census, inflated to
2004, using BLS wage inflation)
14:40 - 13 May 2006 [/y6/my]
Wed, 03 May 2006
Tax cuts again
The House is poised today to vote on cutting the income taxes of the
richest people in Rhode Island. Since the state budget is in serious
deficit, this will guarantee that the rest of us make up the
Supporters of the bill can't cite any evidence that rich people
will move here because of this bill, or any evidence that our
economy will improve even if they do. They can only rely on appeals
to "common sense."
Well common sense tells me that decaying schools and high property
taxes also cause rich people to move, and that giving rich people
another tax cut on top of what they have already received won't help
that one little bit. Not only that, bad schools cause poor people to
be denied a decent education and high property taxes cause people all
over the state to be turned out of their homes. But the members of
House Finance are clearly hypnotized by the siren song of supply-side
economics, a theory of economics built on other theories of economics,
and without any real support from what they call, you know, the real
world. Out here in that world, we find the House leadership's support
of this bill disgraceful.
Someday, one hopes these people will find their past support for this
measure embarrassing. In the no doubt vain hope of hastening that
day, here is a list of the members of House Finance. Contact
information for them can be found here.
- Representative Kenneth Carter
- Representative Arthur J. Corvese
- Representative Steven M. Costantino (Chair)
- Representative Paul W. Crowley
- Representative Elizabeth M. Dennigan
- Representative Raymond E. Gallison Jr.
- Representative Robert B. Jacquard
- Representative Peter L. Lewiss
- Representative Jan Malik
- Representative Victor G. Moffitt
- Representative Carol A. Mumford
- Representative Eileen S. Naughton
- Representative Henry C. Rose
- Representative William San Bento Jr.
- Representative John A. Savage
- Representative Joseph H. Scott
- Representative John P. Shanley Jr.
- Representative Thomas C. Slater
- Representative Anastasia Williams
07:36 - 03 May 2006 [/y6/my]
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