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

Mon, 29 Oct 2007

Random references for issue 28

14:40 - 29 Oct 2007 [/y7/oc]

Wed, 24 Oct 2007

New Hampshire taxes

For readers coming here from the column in today's newspaper: Scroll down a bit.

09:49 - 24 Oct 2007 [/y7/oc]

Their own enemies

This publication is on several press lists, and so I receive press releases from a variety of publications looking for ink. I've been getting releases from the URI College Republicans for a little while, with some irregularities in the address that let me know that they probably got the press list from someone at the statehouse. Imagine my surprise when I got the following message, with the same irregularities.

Date: Tue, 23 Oct 2007 19:45:27 -0400
From: "Protest College Republicans"
To: protesturicollegegop@gmail.com


The same URI College Republicans who brought you a White, Heterosexual Male Scholarship are now bringing you an Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week. The racism, sexism and bigotry continues.

The URI College Republicans must be stopped!

Join myself and dozens of other students as we protest the URI College Republicans tomorrow night at 7PM when they host Robert Spencer, a Muslim-Hating, Bush propogandist in the Memorial Union Ballroom.

Let's put an end to this racism, sexism and bigotry!

This man wrote "The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam". What a sicko!

Protest Details:
What: Robert Spencer Speech
Where: Memorial Union Ballroom
When: Wednesday Oct 24 @ 7 PM

Since this clearly came from the URI College Republicans, I'd assume that anyone who showed up to protest was a willing tool of that organization. Wouldn't you?

09:49 - 24 Oct 2007 [/y7/oc]

Tue, 23 Oct 2007

RIPR 28 Coming soon...

  • Corrections budget -- Our curious priorities: Locking up criminals but slighting the police who are supposed to catch them.
  • Book review -- Against Prediction Police and parole officials try to predict who will commit crimes, but is that a good way to reduce crime?
  • Trying to predict the cost of our flat tax cap for the rich. The IRS withholds data.

Didn't you mean to subscribe?

07:35 - 23 Oct 2007 [/y7/oc]

Our flinty neighbors to the north

Answering questions about New Hampshire's taxes. A table of NH property tax rates. You can see in it that the vacation towns tend to have much lower rates than the less fashionable towns. The cities tend to be on the low end of the high side. But check for yourself.

A table of RI property tax rates. Here, too, is it any accident that the lowest rates are in places like Block Island and Little Compton?

New Hampshire's property taxes, in aggregate, aren't that much different from Rhode Island's. But when you look at the non-vacation areas of that state, they're substantially higher. So New Hampshire is allowing its out-of-state owners to subsidize a slightly lower property tax, which is fine for them, but where does that leave a state whose leaders say we should emulate them?

07:28 - 23 Oct 2007 [/y7/oc]

Thu, 18 Oct 2007

Trickle-down works after all

Read here.

14:41 - 18 Oct 2007 [/y7/oc]

How much is the "flat" tax costing us?

As you may know, in 2006, the legislature adopted a tax cap for very wealthy taxpayers. The idea is that we shouldn't tax those people any more than they'd be taxed in Massachusetts. This is supposed to help our economy somehow, though there is little reason to think so, unless you think that rich investors power the economy, regardless of the fate of the workers, customers, inventors, roads, schools, police and fire departments on which they depend.

But putting those little details aside, there is some confusion about how much this tax cut will actually cost us. The tax division put some numbers out in 2006, based on the 2005 tax returns, but they didn't make any predictions for the future. What's been clear over the past several years is that the incomes of the wealthy are growing at a different rate than the incomes of the less-wealthy. This makes tax projections tricky.

What makes them trickier is that the Bush administration's IRS has decided it's no longer important to provide detailed tax data for the states. (They still provide state data, but with far less detail than since the statistics of income bureau was established.) So there are some significant grains of salt to take with tax projections. That said, knowing the cost of this cut is important to what passes for policy debate around here, so I spent some time this past week reconstructing my model of income distribution and tax collections for our state, to take newer data into account.

Here is what I get for the flat tax costs. The second column is the limit, which is applied to the taxpayer's taxable income:

20068.0%$5.7 million
20077.5%$11 million
20087.0%$18 million
20096.5%$36 million
20106.0%$63 million
20115.5%$112 million

Caveats: I'd be willing to bet these are within 10% of the right answer, but no better than that. These are tax year predictions, not fiscal years. Here's the hit on fiscal years, more useful for discussions of the state budget:

FY07$8.4 million
FY08$15 million
FY09$27 million
FY10$49 million
FY11$88 million
FY12$112 million

These are the best estimates I can make with the available data. When more data becomes available, I will revise them.

08:12 - 18 Oct 2007 [/y7/oc]

Sun, 14 Oct 2007

Where it all goes

A cool way to look at the federal government's budget.

21:53 - 14 Oct 2007 [/y7/oc]

Fri, 12 Oct 2007

Income inequality up

Apparently as high as its been in the US since statistics have been kept. This article in the radical rag The Wall Street Journal reports that researchers say you probably have to go back to the 1920's to find a comparable period.

15:03 - 12 Oct 2007 [/y7/oc]

Wed, 10 Oct 2007

Can you trust reporters to report?

Especially when they quote people. Read about Hillary and torture.

22:13 - 10 Oct 2007 [/y7/oc]

Mon, 01 Oct 2007


Read here.

12:00 - 01 Oct 2007 [/y7/oc]

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