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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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.


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Wed, 26 Apr 2006

Free massages

The House Finance Committee yesterday passed a law cutting the taxes of people who earn more than around $250,000 per year. The tax cuts will increase over the next five or six years, until they reach over $75 million, according to House Finance, or over $100 million, according to me.

These people are, of course, virtually the only people in Rhode Island whose state and local taxes are significantly lower now than they were ten years ago, so I'm not really sure what the problem is. In other words, yes, the plan is to give a cut to the people who need it least, and who already got their tax cut over the past few years.

As an alternative to this very expensive and foolish plan, I propose this instead. The state shall subsidize the cost of a bi-weekly massage for everyone whose family income is over $250,000. At about $30 per visit, this will also be approximately $7 million per year, but at least the cost won't double next year.

13:11 - 26 Apr 2006 [/y6/ap]

Fri, 21 Apr 2006

The Senate Tax Plan

Posting has been light while I finish up a big project, but news of the Senate tax reform plan brought me back. You can read about the plan here, but here's a summary:

  1. Reduce the property tax levy cap to 4.0% per year from the current 5.5%.
  2. Reduce the cap on state budget increases from 5.5% per year to 4.0% per year.
  3. Increase the property tax circuit breaker for the elderly and disabled.
  4. Eliminate "unfunded mandates" of the state on cities and towns.

And here's why it's so stupid.

Capping the levy increases
Who thinks that towns are increasing their budgets just because they want to? Who is it who believes that city councillors and town managers are not seeking ways to reduce their budgets? Show me one of those people and I will show you someone who doesn't pay much attention to their local government. Or I will show you an idiot.

Announcing to the world that you will insist that municipal governments cut their budgets is another way to say that you actually have no clue at all how municipal governments can possibly lower their budget, but also that you don't really care.

Capping the state budget
What a grand idea. Presumably after forcing all those spendthrift towns to cut their budgets, we have to make darn sure that the state can't step in and pay for valuable services the municipality can't afford. No, dear, we can't have that.
Property tax circuit breaker
This is slated to go up from a maximum of $250 per year to a whopping $300. Wow.
Unfunded mandates
This is actually a very good idea, but it's a little difficult to see how it's going to work as proposed. For example, the whole idea of public education is an unfunded (or only partially funded) mandate. Is the Senate simply proposing that the courts work this out for them?

The whole proposal smells like the same old same old: hashed over ideas aired by people who don't really have any idea what goes on in city halls and school departments. This can't possibly be the best the Senate can do.

14:25 - 21 Apr 2006 [/y6/ap]

Wed, 05 Apr 2006

Bush tax cuts

A story in the New York Times outlines the effects of the Bush tax cuts on investment income a couple of years back.

(For those losing count of the tax cuts, this was a different round than the cuts on wages and other noninvestment income.)

Americans with annual incomes of $1 million or more, about one-tenth of 1 percent all taxpayers, reaped 43 percent of all the savings on investment taxes in 2003. The savings for these taxpayers averaged about $41,400 each.

This is from an analysis of 2003 tax data, so the savings will be much bigger for 2004 and 2005, since the stock market performed much better those years.

Remember, these are the people that our leading lights insist make up such a valuable part of our state that we need to cut their taxes.

13:20 - 05 Apr 2006 [/y6/ap]

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