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.

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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.


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Tue, 30 Mar 2010

Anticipating a problem before it's a problem is a good idea

New York Times Article about runaway debt in the states, with particularly unkind words about Rhode Island's borrowing policies:


Rhode Island Policy Reporter articles about runaway debt in our state, with particularly unkind words about Rhode Island's borrowing policies. (Especially DOT.) From:

It's nice to be right, and anticipating a problem before it happens is good, but it's nicer to have been able to prevent a problem. Did I mention I'm running for general treasurer in order to prevent the next problem?

17:44 - 30 Mar 2010 [/y10/ma]

Tue, 09 Mar 2010

The Opposite of Stimulus

Much has been made nationally of the Obama administration's stimulus package and efforts to turn around one of the weakest economies we have seen in decades. But in Rhode Island, our politicians have enacted counterproductive measures that have only harmed Rhode Island families and small businesses and continue to hold us back. It is not too late to turn around these policy decisions and take decisive action to put working Rhode Islanders first, but it will require stronger voices than we have seen at the Statehouse in recent years.

The problem is that state leaders have seen only one path to economic development: increase investment. This has led them to promote tax cuts for the rich, among them the "flat" tax. In order to pay for those tax cuts, the state government has absorbed some of the Obama stimulus money that should have gone to cities and towns, and to schools. Property taxes have been increased, leaving thousands of working families with even less money to spend. We've laid off municipal workers and teachers, and made cuts in education, Medicaid, and other services used by ordinary Rhode Islanders.

These policies send a clear signal that our leaders in the statehouse, notwithstanding rhetoric to the contrary, have not really been helping working families in Rhode Island. Rather, they've used the stimulus money to make up for foolhardy tax cuts for the wealthy -- tax cuts that will not in any way help our economy but will certainly help the corporate and monied interests who unduly influence too many elected officials.

But won't investment help? The idea that a lack of investment is limiting our state's economy is just not supportable. If anything, our state suffers from too much investment. We are still feeling the effects of a collapse of a speculative bubble in housing. How do you have a speculative bubble without investment? Rhode Island's problem is not a lack of funds to invest, but a shortage of productive places to invest them in.

What's more, a strategy of investment is inadequate given the scale of the problem. In its most recent annual report, the Economic Development Corporation boasts their $1.6 million loan fund has created 63 jobs and protected 396. That's great, but there are over 70,000 unemployed people in our state. What do we tell the rest?

It is disappointing that the most effective ways to use the stimulus money to help working Rhode Islanders and our small business community seem to get no attention. For example, winter is almost over and the funds for weatherization of people's houses have barely been tapped. The state reported that just nine houses were weatherized in January with this program. That's money that should have employed contractors, and saved money for the very people who need it most.

To get our economy moving again we need more money in the pockets of people who will spend it. This will increase business at local grocery stores, restaurants, and shops. The activity there will create those missing investment opportunities as business people decide to hire, expand or open new small businesses.

Who are those people? There are over 300,000 tax returns filed every year in Rhode Island for people and families with less than $50,000 of income. With their dependents, this is almost half the state. If we want to get the economy moving again, we need policies to improve their lives and put money in their pockets. This should include, at minimum, meeting living wage standards in contracting, changing the laws to put teeth into utility and health care rate regulation, improving public transit, getting that weatherization program in gear, or just making sure there are enough computers in our libraries for people who need to use them to look for work. Yes, money is tight, but we must not balance the budget on the backs of working families yet again.

Want to help small businesses? Let's not fool ourselves with nice, but inadequate, loan programs and talk of investment. Let's find ways to give them more customers instead.

The treasurer's office can play a role in this by redirecting into our state's economy the money we currently pay to distant creditors, by using local financial expertise where possible, by reforming the way we do our financial business to avoid borrowing through the big investment banks on Wall Street, and through consumer protection reforms and financial literacy education to help people save money that might otherwise go to banks and credit card fees.

The economy and jobs in Rhode Island should be the focus of debate for all candidates who are asking the voters to put their trust in them -- whether they are running for Governor, General Treasurer, or state legislative seats. My opponent for General Treasurer has suggested that local investment of a few percent of the pension fund would be a "shot in the arm" for the local economy. But it would be a pinprick at best. I look forward to debating this over the course of the next six months on the campaign trail.

There is much that can be done before the elections in the fall. New leadership in the Assembly is a reason for hope, but Rhode Islanders should be clear with their elected leaders that easing the way for increased investment in the state's economy is only important after people have enough money to buy stuff. End the flat tax so we can restore funding to cities and towns, get the stimulus funds out the door and into the economy, and concentrate state policy on helping the vast majority of our citizens, rather than just those few at the very top.

Until we take these steps, state policy will remain the opposite of stimulus -- a drag on the economy and a guarantee that, once again, Rhode Island will be the last state to recover from the economic downturn.

16:20 - 09 Mar 2010 [/y10/ma]

Tue, 02 Mar 2010

Strong consumer protection needed

Congress is choosing now between a wishy-washy do-nothing bill that pretends to do financial reform and consumer protection on financial matters, and a much stronger bill that actually has teeth and an independent Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPA). Read my letter to Jack Reed about the choice here.

17:04 - 02 Mar 2010 [/y10/ma]

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