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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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

Wed, 31 Aug 2005

Government policy matters

What a surprise. And to see what happens when the people in charge of it don't believe in its value, ask yourself where FEMA is in New Orleans? Why can't the police communicate with each other? Why is it Wednesday before FEMA gets minimally involved? Read here

Indeed, the advent of the Bush administration in January 2001 signaled the beginning of the end for FEMA. The newly appointed leadership of the agency showed little interest in its work or in the missions pursued by the departed Witt. Then came the Sept. 11 attacks and the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. Soon FEMA was being absorbed into the "homeland security borg."

This year it was announced that FEMA is to "officially" lose the disaster preparedness function that it has had since its creation. The move is a death blow to an agency that was already on life support. In fact, FEMA employees have been directed not to become involved in disaster preparedness functions, since a new directorate (yet to be established) will have that mission.

FEMA will be survived by state and local emergency management offices, which are confused about how they fit into the national picture. That's because the focus of the national effort remains terrorism, even if the Department of Homeland Security still talks about "all-hazards preparedness."

Via Washington Monthly.

17:10 - 31 Aug 2005 [/y5/au]

Mon, 29 Aug 2005

The conflict between services and taxes...

... where it doesn't work.

14:25 - 29 Aug 2005 [/y5/au]

Katrina's economic effects

As we wait to hear about the terrible effects of Katrina in New Orleans, it's worth a moment to remember one of the curious things that happened to the economy of South Florida after much of it was flattened by Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

Andrew caused $26 billion of damage and killed around 60 people (depending on how you count), but the gross economic measures that people use to define the health of Florida's economy were largely untouched — or went up. After all, there were all these repairs to pay for in the aftermath.

This isn't meant to minimize the tragedy of Andrew (or Katrina); these are awe-inspiring storms, with truly awful effects. But it's worth pointing out that public policy these days is run to maximize a curious set of economic statistics that (1) are pretty much impossible to measure accurately, and (2) may not have that much to do with how happy the people in that economy are. If a storm like this makes the overall economic picture look better, isn't it time to re-think our reliance on these statistics?

12:21 - 29 Aug 2005 [/y5/au]

Wed, 24 Aug 2005

Why are there still monkeys?

From "Larry King Live" last night (transcript), and I hope he was wearing a smile at the time:

KING: All right, hold on. Dr. Forrest, your concept of how can you out-and-out turn down creationism, since if evolution is true, why are there still monkeys?

You're reading this on the internet, so apparently it is the 21st century. But sometimes it's hard to tell.

13:45 - 24 Aug 2005 [/y5/au]

Tue, 23 Aug 2005

Intelligent design, again

A piece in Slate points out that "teaching the controversy" about evolution isn't a half-bad idea, since, after all, the reason the vast majority of biologists believe in evolution is because the theory was proven so superior to the alternatives in the course of that same controversy.

The great set piece, which I was taught in school, involved the debate at Oxford between Darwin's supporter Thomas Huxley and Bishop Wilberforce... In front of a large audience, Huxley cleaned Wilberforce's clock, ate his lunch, used him as a mop for the floor, and all that.

15:59 - 23 Aug 2005 [/y5/au]

Economic outlook

The Bush administration is taking credit for an improved economy reducing the expected deficit this year. While reserving judgment about whether there's all that much to celebrate over a $331 billion deficit over a $365 billion deficit, especially given that we were in surplus not so very long ago, it is interesting to notice what's in the fine print. From the Congressional Budget Office's recent "Budget and Economic Outlook: An Update."

Revenues are likely to be $85 billion higher this year than CBO expected in March, primarily because of robust growth in corporate income tax payments.

This is what's making the deficit go down, apparently. And this is in the second paragraph of the executive summary, right up front. But down on page 24, there's this word of explanation:

The sources of the current strength in corporate tax receipts will not be known until information from tax returns becomes available in future years, but CBO anticipates that most of that strength will be temporary.

They go on to explain that only $1 billion of the estimated $53 billion increase in corporate tax collections can be attributed to improvements in the economy. They speculate that the burst here can possibly be attributed to companies deciding to "book" profits now.

Our interpretation: companies are figuring that grim reality can't be far away, and that, at least in budgetary terms, a day of reckoning is ahead. Because of this, the tax situation is as good for them now as it is going to get, so if there are profits in the offing, move them to the present, and take the tax hit now.

So look forward soon to reports of big companies recording favorable profits, and look forward to uncritical reporting of those profits.

Read the CBO document here, and read a critique of more than corporate profits here.

15:41 - 23 Aug 2005 [/y5/au]

Thu, 18 Aug 2005

Another entry

In the quest to explain our creation. I speak, of course, of the FSM, and his many millions of devout followers. Read more here.

01:42 - 18 Aug 2005 [/y5/au]

Tue, 16 Aug 2005

Roll Over

It appears the official Democratic strategy to the nomination of Judge Roberts to the Supreme Court has been arrived at.

Aren't you glad to know that Scalia will soon have such a good friend across the table?

Maybe someone can explain carefully to everyone why exactly a judge's judicial philosophy is not a valid basis on which to make a decision about whether that judge deserves elevation to a higher court? Strangely, I thought it was probably the most important consideration, but I guess that's just me.

10:03 - 16 Aug 2005 [/y5/au]

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