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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.
Wed, 18 Nov 2009
Letter from the Mayors
In my mailbox this morning. They're exactly right.
The one quibble I have is that there's nothing wrong with binding
arbitration. The binding arbitration rules in, for example,
Connecticut are quite clear about what are the proper reasons an
arbitrator can use to rule one way or the other in a dispute. It's
possible to draw those rules to favor unions, and it's possible to
draw them to favor management. We should adopt binding arbitration,
and then argue about what are the proper grounds for a ruling, but
that's a far smarter course than just throwing the whole idea out the
Coalition of RI mayors: Best
medicine for RI is smart state
Prescribing a "crash diet" to 39
people you have never met will
make some more healthy, make
others sick and will kill a
handful. Doctors don't prescribe
in this way, for obvious
reasons. Instead, they base
their recommendations on
detailed individual histories
and a strong understanding of
the symptoms. They know who
they're dealing with, they see
what's wrong and they follow the
best practices for fixing the
Everyone knows that Rhode
Island's economy is not well.
Recently, we have seen signs of
courageous and incisive state
and municipal leadership, for
instance, on education and
pension reform. However, when it
comes to overall state funding
policy, many elected officials -
including the governor - are
still prescribing a blanket
crash diet for Rhode Island's 39
cities and towns. This is not a
way to lead our state back to
fiscal health. Rhode Island's 39
municipalities have dramatically
different fiscal profiles. Only
by taking a detailed history can
we understand how they got this
way and how we might go about
fixing it. A history of poor
fiscal management in some of our
municipalities has resulted in
wild deviations between similar
communities: some have lifetime
Blue Cross insurance for
teachers and their spouses while
others do not; some have as much
as 50 percent more police
officers per capita than others;
some have millions of dollars
more in pension liabilities than
Binding arbitration, including
the proposed teacher contract
legislation, is an example of
state policy that will continue
to widen the gap between
efficient and inefficient
communities. These inequities
were arguably brought on by the
cities and towns themselves or
have been the result of wayward
binding arbitration decisions,
which favored labor unions. But
the state is not blameless in
that it has, for decades, failed
to incentivize good fiscal
behavior - indeed it has often
done just the opposite. And in
other important respects, gross
fiscal inequities have been
created between similar cities
and towns by poor state policy
dating back several decades.
Three attributes mark good
governmental funding policy at
any level: 1) the funding is
equitable; 2) it's transparent;
and 3) it rewards the right
kinds of behavior. Our current
state funding policies bear none
of these hallmarks.
Anyone who feels compelled to
weigh in on the issue of state
funding to cities and towns
should at the very least have a
fundamental understanding of
each community's budget and
should be well versed in the two
major funding policies that
determine how 75 percent of the
shrinking pot of state aid,
millions less than the often
reported $1.1 billion, is
distributed. Many taxpayers
could not name these two funding
sources. They are the education
funding policy, which
distributes $700 million to
school districts and the
"vehicle excise phase out"
funding policy, which allocates
$140 million to municipalities.
More troubling, most local and
state elected officials as well
as the media would not be able
to explain how these funding
programs work: that is, what
rules govern the distribution of
funding to Rhode Island's cities
and towns. Efforts to
regionalize municipal services
will be much more effective if
these two funding policies are
Every Rhode Islander should
adopt the slogan, "My student is
my student! My car is my car!"
State funding for education to
any municipality should be based
on the actual students in its
district schools. State aid in a
vehicle tax program should be
based on the assessed value of
the cars owned by the citizens
of a city or town. Believe it or
not, this is not how it works in
Rhode Island. As a result, we
have inequitable distributions
of revenue to cities and towns,
to the tune of tens of millions
of dollars going to the wrong
Consider this: a main reason
that Rhode Island is one of the
highest spending and lowest
performing states in the nation
on education is because we fail,
time and again, to get the right
amount of money to the right
places at the right time. A
strong education funding policy
would be based on individual
student need, establishing the
base level of state support
every student requires and
providing additional support
through an equitable and
transparent formula for special
needs that require costly
additional services. This
measurable amount of funding
would follow a child to any
Rhode Island public school
parents choose. Only in this way
can we get taxpayer's dollars
where they were intended to go.
Only in this way can we avoid
the practically comic system
under which we now live, where a
district can continue to receive
tens of millions of dollars for
thousands of students who no
longer attend its schools or, in
many cases, even live in the
district, while another district
can face an influx of costly
students and not receive one
additional dime in state aid.
Only in this way can the state
stop providing fiscal incentives
for bad results like high
Likewise, an intelligent vehicle
tax policy would be based on one
state vehicle tax rate. State
policy aside, a 2004 Ford
Explorer parked in a driveway in
Barrington is worth the same
amount of money as when it is
parked in a driveway in Warwick.
Currently the state allocates
funding to communities based on
vehicle tax rates, frozen in
1998, rewarding communities with
the highest tax rates and
penalizing communities with the
lowest tax rates. Depending on
where the Explorer is registered
cities and towns can receive
checks as low as $59 or as high
as $460. Some may call this
policy property tax relief but
no one can defend it as fair tax
relief. That this has to be
explained reveals what a mess
the state of Rhode Island has
gotten itself into. This is not
about pitting one community
against another. As municipal
leaders we are ready to live
with a state system that is fair
and well thought out. That
system would aid us based on who
we, as communities, really are,
rather than based on who we were
a quarter century ago. Fair and
well thought out. That's the
best medicine. Prescribe it to
us and we'll take it, and live
with it and make it work.
Daniel J. McKee Mayor of
Cumberland This letter was
written for a coalition of the
following officials supporting
funding-policy reform: Lincoln
Town Administrator T. Joseph
Almond Warwick Mayor Scott
Avedisian Providence Mayor David
N. Cicilline Pawtucket Mayor
James E. Doyle Smithfield Town
Manager Dennis G. Finlay
Cranston Mayor Allan W. Fung
Tiverton Town Administrator
James Goncalco North Smithfield
Town Administrator Paulette D.
Hamilton Westerly Town Manager
Steven T. Hartford East
Greenwich Town Council President
Michael B. Isaacs North
Providence Mayor Charles A.
Lombardi Central Falls Mayor
Charles D. Moreau Johnston Mayor
Joseph M. Polisena
08:19 - 18 Nov 2009 [/y9/no]
Mon, 02 Nov 2009
Orrin Hatch on the dreadful scenario of passing health care reform:
"And if they get there, of course, you're going to have a very rough
time having a two-party system in this country, because almost
everybody's going to say, 'All we ever were, all we ever are, all we
ever hope to be depends on the Democratic Party,' " Hatch said during
an interview with the conservative CNSNews.com.
"That's their goal," Hatch added. "That's what keeps Democrats in
That is, we fear a party that can actually do things that people
15:10 - 02 Nov 2009 [/y9/no]
Sun, 01 Nov 2009
They really are like that
pole of the health care reform debate is occupied by real, prominent,
people. It may sound like a cartoon, but the people behind it seem to
19:06 - 01 Nov 2009 [/y9/no]
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(A funny book you should own)