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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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or $18 with shipping and sales tax).
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RIPR is a (paper) newsletter and a weekly column appearing in ten
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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, 28 Jul 2009
Ten Things You Don't Know About Rhode Island
I'm happy to announce that Ten Things You Don't Know About Rhode
Island is now available. The book, a collection of articles and
columns written over the past couple of years, is my attempt to
begin to assimilate a critique of the conventional tale about
Rhode Island's woes.
What's that conventional tale? Let me quote the introduction to
Rhode Island is in a crisis! Hamstrung by a legislature
in thrall to powerful unions and the lobbyists for
social service agencies, we have spent far beyond our
means. Furthermore, profligate spending by cities and
towns is bankrupting local government, and threatens to
take the state down, too. Meanwhile, to satisfy the
unquenchable demand for government services and
benefits, taxes are rising every year without end.
Does this story sound familiar? It should. I encounter it in
the newspaper, on the internet, on talk radio, and even in
conversation with my friends. You probably do, too. I think of
it as the "conventional tale," and it defines the politics of
the past two decades here in Rhode Island. I've heard it not
just from friends and neighbors, but from the vast majority of
the many legislators, town councilors, school committee members
I've ever spoken with.
The problem is that this conventional tale is wrong in nearly
every particular. Labor has several allies in the state
legislature, but it has lost almost all the high-profile battles
it has undertaken over the past decade. Welfare benefits are
stingy and hard to get here, just like in other states, and the
welfare rolls have declined dramatically over the past dozen
years. Meanwhile, few municipalities are spending any more than
the bare minimum necessary to meet legal requirements -- and the
ever-increasing demand for services by their own residents.
What about taxes? Aren't Rhode Islanders paying more and more
taxes each year? Even this, it turns out, is not correct. If
you ignore the take from the Rhode Island Lottery and the video
slot terminals in Newport and Lincoln, the proportion of our
state's economy collected in state fees and taxes plus all
local property taxes has barely budged, except to decline
slightly since the early 1990's. What's changed is who pays
To be clear, Rhode Island and its government have some serious
problems, and they demand solutions. But the conventional tale
is just wrong. This is important not because I have a more
loathsome set of villains to hold responsible for the mess, or
because of some abstract standard of fairness I might uphold.
It's important because when the analysis of our problems is
wrong, the solutions we come up with don't work, and the
problems don't get fixed. A patient comes to a doctor with a
headache. If the doctor misses the brain tumor, then the aspirin
he prescribes isn't going to do the job, no matter what his
credentials are (or however much health insurance the patient
Stories are how we make sense of the world, and the conventional
tale is simple and satisfies our craving for villains. It's easy
to master the overall outline, and there's a host of detail
available that seems to corroborate it. When a town budget
doesn't get cut, it's easy to blame it on unions, and when the
Assembly can't eliminate welfare, it's easy to blame that on poor
people or immigrants. But to take this route is to miss the
facts, miss the point, and miss the real story.
There is a better explanation of our crisis, and "Ten Things"
presents what amounts to a second opinion about Rhode Island's
You can order a copy from this site (which I'd
prefer), or from Powells.com, Amazon.com or BN.com. Find direct
links over to the left, and if you travel to one of those
sites, please leave a comment if you have one to make.
00:08 - 28 Jul 2009 [/y9/jy]
Fri, 24 Jul 2009
Who says we're the most corrupt state? Only people
don't get out much.
Remember this? Measures of corruption from last winter. Especially
check out the survey of statehouse reporters.
10:26 - 24 Jul 2009 [/y9/jy]
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