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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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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
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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 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
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
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
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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