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

Tue, 25 Sep 2007

NCSL Report

For those who are wondering about the source of the fake statistic that says RI raised its taxes higher last year than any other state, it's in a report available to National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL) members at the ncsl.org.

The issue is that NCSL researchers counted as a new tax a tax that's been on our books for a dozen years or so. But for reasons that elude rational explanation, every year, the legislature passes it with a one-year expiration. Optimism, I guess. So it's not at all a new tax (and was even trimmed slightly this past session), but NCSL counts it as a new tax.

You can find the report right here, too, for free. Enjoy.

Update: The NCSL is upset that their report is being circulated for free, so have demanded that I retract it from the web site. For the moment, the link above won't work. However, I will be submitting a request that they allow me to display a representative segment that will allow readers to see that it was, indeed, their report that was the source of this stupid statistic.

Further update: No dice on reproducing even a part of the offending report, so go pay them their fee if you want to see their error instead of hearing me describe it. They also request that I clarify that they only charge a fee if you're not a legislator or staff. The rest of us who care about how the business of our state is conducted have to pay. If you're really curious, write me and I'll describe it to you. Read more here.

23:37 - 25 Sep 2007 [/y7/se]

Wed, 19 Sep 2007

Growth rates

Does the movement of people from one town to another cause property taxes to go up? Here's a chart of growth in Middletown and Portsmouth, two towns right next to each other, on the same island. They are the same size, and have the same tax rate (roughly), but fiscal politics is brutal in Portsmouth, and the town teeters on the edge of fiscal crisis. Middletown had a crisis a few years ago, but now has one of the highest bond ratings in the state.

The two towns are now growing at the same rate, but for one of them, that's a relief to be growing after some years of shrinking. For the other, it's a disaster because they aren't growing at the explosive rate of years past.

There's more on the topic in issue 25.

21:58 - 19 Sep 2007 [/y7/se]

Thu, 06 Sep 2007

Bureaucracy creeps, enrollment drops

A recent Projo article documents how increasing the qualification requirement paperwork for RIte Care (Rhode Island Medicaid) has resulted in an "unprecedented" drop in people in the program. They've gone from 119,000 people to 111,000 since January 2005. Those missing 8,000 people were not all people who didn't "deserve" to be served by the program. Some of them were people who would qualify, but who weren't up to the challenge of providing all the necessary paperwork -- birth certificates, four pay-stubs to verify income -- and so on.

I wrote a while back about the welfare bureaucracy and the insane fear that someone, somewhere, will take advantage of the system to get benefits for which they are not entitled. To be clear, this is a bad thing, and to be avoided, but when the cost of avoiding it is that people who need help also get cut off the rolls, then there is something seriously wrong with the system. Read more here.

12:06 - 06 Sep 2007 [/y7/se]

Wed, 05 Sep 2007

Because it's important

Do you want to know why we're in Iraq now? Read here.

The Daily Howler is right that this is the story that refuses to be told. You'll see it in the link above, but it won't resonate or echo anywhere, and so you won't hear it until the next time someone publishes a story about press misconduct.

Trying to figure out what to do about this isn't easy. Heaven knows my answer isn't so effective. But it is pretty clear that nothing will happen so long as people don't mention it.

13:19 - 05 Sep 2007 [/y7/se]

Said better than I ever could

From Bill Maher (via Cheers and jeers):

And finally, New Rule: If you were surprised that the Chinese don't care about toy safety, then the child who needs protecting is you. Over the last couple of months, American consumers have been learning a shocking lesson about supply and demand: if you demand products that don't cost anything, people will make them out of poison, mud and shit...

They're the Chinese. They don't care if your precious little Britney sucks a little lead. Because in China, their kids aren't playing with the toys. They're the ones in the factory all day making them.

Now, I know you're saying, "But, Bill, I don't have time to ponder whether these $12 jeans are the product of child labor. I just know I'm an American on a budget and our lifestyle is a blessed one. And I want to look nice while I'm standing in line for my iPhone."

But, there is something to be said for thinking about why these bargains are such bargains. Wal-Mart is the most American thing in the universe, but all it sells is crap from China. Wal-Mart wouldn't exist without the American consumers' endless thirst for the cheapest stuff China has to offer. Like $30 DVD players and Jackie Chan. Yeah, you're right, it was a great movie.

Anyway...in America, there is nothing more sacred than a bargain... And Jackie Chan. And that even includes the war. Yeah, there's too much lead in the kids' toys, but not nearly enough on the Humvees in Iraq. "Let's have a war and cut taxes; what could go wrong?" "Let's give mortgages to the homeless. Sounds like a plan." "Let's buy toys from a Communist police state. You just know they'll put in a little extra love."

Speaking of which, you know why today's modern Chinese capitalist puts lead in the paint that goes on toys? Because it makes colors brighter. You've got to love America, a country that's literally being killed by the stuff that makes objects shiny.

09:24 - 05 Sep 2007 [/y7/se]

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