Rhode Island Policy Reporter

What's this? A Book!

Or buy here: Light Publications, Powell's, or Bn, Amazon

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!

Now at bookstores near you, or buy it with the button above ($14, or $18 with shipping and sales tax).

Contact information below if you'd like to schedule a book-related event, like a possibly entertaining talk on the book's subjects, featuring the famous mystery graph.

Join the RIPR Mailing List! For a weekly column and (a few) other items of interest, click here or send an email to ripr-list-subscribe@whatcheer.net.

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.

If you'd like to help, please contribute an item, suggest an issue topic, or buy a subscription. If you can, buy two or three (subscribe here).

Search this site

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.

Subscription information:


For those of you who can read english and understand it, the following is an email address you are welcome to use. If you are a web bot, we hope you can't understand it, and that's the point of writing it this way.

editor at whatcheer dot net


Deep archive


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, 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 the book:

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 them.

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 has).

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 condition.

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

Another one

Who says we're the most corrupt state? Only people who 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]

Ads and the like:

RIPR, subscriptions

Rhode Island 101
(A funny book you should own)