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Getting Economic Development Wrong

Readers may get the impression of a broken record with this post.  Before I go on, perhaps I should explain to the younger folks that records were large black vinyl discs, of about 10 or 12 inches, that would spin on a table called a “record player,” with a needle following grooves in the plastic and thereby transmitted prerecorded audio.  If the record were scratched, the needle would skip across grooves and the listener would often hear the same phrase repeated over and over again.

Anyway, repetition is obligatory in Rhode Island, these days, because the people we’ve elected to public office have the completely incorrect view of economic development.  Here’s Governor Gina Raimondo’s Commerce Czar Stefan Pryor responding to the House Finance Committee’s concern that the governor intends to give him a great deal of money and discretion:

… Pryor bluntly told the committee that the corporation cannot grow the state’s economy without the programs proposed in the governor’s budget. He described a conversation he had with the corporation’s executive staff before he formally assumed his new role earlier this year. Pryor said he asked the staff how Rhode Island would attempt to compete with a company that arrived in the state with a list of project terms provided by another nearby state, such as New York.

“This is not a fictionalization. This is the actual answer I got back: We cannot — on any point,” Pryor said. 

“That’s a problem. We must ensure the appropriate level of accountability and the necessary level of flexibility to carry out this work. But the primary problem that we have is we can’t even counter. We can’t help our businesses in Rhode Island grow.”

Simply put, it should not be the role of government to take money away from the people who live in the state in order to outbid other states’ bribes to lure the economic actors whom government prefers to the state.  Rather, the government’s role should be to ensure that Rhode Islanders have the space — in stability, security, and infrastructure — to make their state a place that attracts the sorts of economic actors whom they prefer.

Politicians sometimes say that Rhode Islanders are Rhode Island’s greatest asset, but they don’t really mean it.  If they did, they’d let Rhode Islanders maximize their own efforts toward building their lives and shaping their state.

The technocratic, Raimondian method of economic development is akin to confiscating money from the music industry in order to subsidize companies that make enhanced record players when they should be leaving the money in the economy and trimming regulations in order to allow Rhode Islanders to develop cassettes, compact discs, and mp3 players.

Following Up on EITC

While looking into Rhode Island’s earned income tax credit (EITC) benefit for lower-income workers, I asked Director of Revenue Analysis Paul Dion to clarify something in the revenue expenditure report that his office maintains.  The answer might put Governor Raimondo’s proposal to increase the EITC in a new light.

Under current law, recipients of the EITC can receive 10% of the federal version of the benefit, and 100% of it is refundable, meaning that even if the credit is greater than their actual tax liability, they get the money back as a refund.  (I have confirmed, by the way, that beneficiaries do actually have to have some taxable income.)

The estimates for the cost of the program that I cited from the report were based on the law as it was before the General Assembly changed it last year.  Before, beneficiaries could get 25% of the federal EITC, but they would only receive 15% of a resulting refund.

That change slipped through without much notice, though, because budget documents paired it with a reduction of property tax relief for elderly and disabled residents.  The two changes together actually had a taxpayer savings of $3.9 million.  I, for one, had thought that meant the EITC change turned out to be a reduction, so both parts of the package were cuts.

According to Dion, that was not the case.  The EITC change actually increased the cost of the program by $4,293,291.  Roughly speaking, then, the cost of the program, in 2015, is more like $16 million, rather than $12.2 million, with an average benefit of $167 per year.

For the next budget year, Raimondo’s benefit increase would bring the total program up to $19.1 million, about a 70% increase over two years, bringing the total average benefit to around $192 per year.  The following year would bring the program’s cost up to $22 million or so, because the budget increases it by the same increment in the second year, essentially doubling the cost from its 2014 base.

Can Rhode Island really afford to continue ratcheting up its degree of income redistribution?  Add in other burdens on the economy, like the continually growing minimum wage, and it’s little wonder that our labor force is shrinking and employment struggling.

Regulatory Humility as an Illustration for Civic Principles in RI and IN

Federal Trade Commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen believes in “regulatory humility,” and policy makers on the state level would be wise to hear her out. The concept is one that seems like common sense, but examples in government and politics more generally suggest that humility is less attractive in practice.

With reference to economic theories by the likes of Friedrich Hayek that are, she says, not exactly in dispute these days, Ohlhausen explained at a recent American Enterprise Institute event that regulators should be aware of their limits.  Especially in an era of technological lunges, regulators can’t know everything about the industries that they regulate–let alone other industries that innovation might bring into competition–while facing an unknowable future.

A skim of the legislation proposed in any state will likely show a less-than-humble approach to regulating (although some will be worse than others).

Continue reading on WatchDog.org.

Governor Wants to Remove “Privilege” from Tax

Behold the power of a parody song.  Governor Raimondo’s office sent a request to the House and Senate finance committees yesterday:

The Governor requests that several amendments be made to Article 11 entitled “Relating to Revenues”, including changes to sections 3, 8 and 15. The changes requested are listed and explained below.

The bulk of the changes (irrespective of the actual impact of each one) are geared toward removing the language that, as I first pointed out last month, makes the “Taylor Swift Tax” on valuable second homes a tax on the privilege of owning the property, rather than on the property itself.  As a matter of legal and political philosophy that’s a massive affront to property rights, because it implies that owning property is not a right, but a privilege granted by the state.

Of course, this only adjusts the outrage from being an assault on rights to being a first step toward imposing a new tax on Rhode Islanders, and a duplicate one, at that — even a triplicate or quadruplicate one.  Rhode Island cities and towns already have property taxes.  Indeed, fire and water districts also levy taxes on real estate holdings, as do (or will) waste-water districts, like the one that the General Assembly just imposed on the people of Tiverton.

Apparently, reading all of the reports that the General Assembly has commissioned to study our tax and business environment, government officials took the fact that we have high property taxes as an indication that it was a good place to stick a syringe.  Here’s the new language from Governor Raimondo:

Imposition of Tax. (a) The tax administrator of the state of Rhode Island is empowered to impose a tax on non-owner occupied residential property within the state during any tax year commencing with the tax year beginning July 1, 2015 and every tax year thereafter.

In other words, the only thing making this a tax on high-end properties is the “definition” section of the legislation.  This could easily be adjusted downward as budget shortfalls require.

Worse, now that the tax is on the property, not the “privilege” of owning it, rental properties with “five or less units” will definitely be caught up in it.  A landlord renting out five units valued at $200,000 each (not exactly luxury living, necessarily) will be caught.  And as property values climb (assuming they do, in Rhode Island) more and more properties will be captured, even without the General Assembly lifting a finger to tighten the screws.

In the not-too-distant future, a family owning a relatively modest vacation home or renting out property will face up to four different taxes on it.  As the song goes: “Ask any economist, he’ll tell you we’re insane/But you know we love taxpayers, like hungers love game.”

Acknowledging RI’s Religious Freedom Law, Surreptitiously

Except on this Web site, hardly a word has been said or written about the fact that Rhode Island has a religious freedom law on the books very much like the one in Indiana that has proven so (quote-unquote) controversial.  That’s actually pretty surprising, inasmuch as the General Assembly promoted a press release with the title, “Sen. Nesselbush blasts Indiana over discrimination, urges businesses to relocate to Rhode Island.”  You’d think journalists would pick up on the fact that Nesselbush’s proclamation requires some caveats, if it isn’t simply an expression of ignorance.

Ian Donnis, of Rhode Island Public Radio was one exception, with his Friday blog-style post, but it’s a peculiar exercise in contrasts:

In contrast to the proposed religious freedom law that generated national headlines from Indiana this week, Rhode Island’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act has been a non-issue since it became law in 1993.

I had a few uncomfortable exchanges with Donnis on Twitter, because this item on his post goes on to present the substantive contrast of the laws as one of intent.  As I put it on Twitter, “What’s the point? If you want to protect religious freedom, you have to do it when it serves the progressive cause?”

In Donnis’s post, Steve Brown, of the far-left RI-ACLU, explains that “the purpose” of Rhode Island’s law was to protect religious minorities, typically those with dark skin.  (I interpreted some cynicism in that paraphrase.)  Given the probable points of view of Brown and like-minded activists, it’s difficult not to conclude, as I suggested this morning, that the Left considers laws to be conditional to its own purposes.

Rhode Island’s religious freedom act was meant to protect certified minorities in the name of popular causes.  That is “in contrast” to Indiana’s law, which activists attack because it protects white Christians against a popular cause.  (Otherwise, the story would be that Rhode Island’s “non-issue” suggests that left-wing activists are being deceptive and unreasonable about Indiana’s version.)

If you want an interesting contrast, by the way, look to Andrew McCarthy, who takes the view of a prosecutor worried that religious freedom can become a cover for terrorist organization.  McCarthy also worries that such laws as Rhode Island’s and Indiana’s err in giving unaccountable judges the power to determine what a “compelling public purpose” is and whether a particular policy is the “least burdensome” possibility for achieving it.

McCarthy’s procedural objection would be difficult to address, unless the idea would be for legislators to lay out very specific boundaries for freedom of religion, rather than allowing judges to consider actual circumstances for the individual cases that come before them.  Whatever the case, we should consider backing off a bit in allowing government to step into the interpersonal balances of our lives.

From my point of view in Rhode Island, where the rule of law seems more like a legal fiction than a reality, the branch that interprets the language is irrelevant if the only thing that matters, ultimately, is what the current progressive talking point might be.

Freedom of Religion in Indiana and Rhode Island

At the national level, Americans are being led to ignore any number of critical and pressing issues through a media-and-activist-driven condemnation of a religious freedom statute just passed into law in Indiana.  The hysteria has reached the point that companies that freely do business in communist China are boycotting Indiana, and Governor Dannel Malloy of Connecticut has implemented a travel ban to Indiana, despite the fact that his own state is on the list of those with such laws.

Rhode Island is also on the list, on the strength of Rhode Island law 42-80.1, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, passed in 1993.  Arguably, Rhode Island’s law is stronger than Indiana’s.  Here’s the operative language in Indiana’s statute:

(a) Except as provided in subsection (b), a governmental entity may not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion, even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.

(b) A governmental entity may substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion only if the governmental entity demonstrates that application of the burden to the person:

(1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and

(2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.

Here’s Rhode Island’s language, for comparison:

(a) Except as provided for in subsection (b), a governmental authority may not restrict a person’s free exercise of religion.

(b) A governmental authority may restrict a person’s free exercise of religion only if:

(1) The restriction is in the form of a rule of general applicability, and does not intentionally discriminate against religion, or among religions; and

(2) The governmental authority proves that application of the restriction to the person is essential to further a compelling governmental interest, and is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.

In Indiana, religious people only have protection if the government’s restriction is “substantial,” and the government can impose even “substantial” burdens if it can “demonstrate” that it will “further[] a compelling governmental interest.”  In Rhode Island, the government is not allowed to restrict the “free exercise of religion” at all, substantially or otherwise, unless it can “prove” that the restriction is “essential to further[ing] a compelling governmental interest.”

These may be shades of nuance, but given that the language is similar, with slightly more edge in Rhode Island:  Is anybody aware of any Rhode Island cases in the last 22 years in which (A) this law has been cited and (B) in which it has won a case in a way that could reasonably be seen as permitting discrimination?

UPDATED: Governor’ Raimondo’s $13.6 Million Refinance

Give this to our super smaht, financially savvy new governor: She knows how to pack a budget with things that require detailed review and analysis if the public is going to have any real sense of whether it’s a good or bad package, on the whole.

Jennifer Bogdan does the good work of digging into the big refinance part of Governor Raimondo’s proposal in today’s Providence Journal:

Roughly $64.5 million in Raimondo’s 2016 fiscal year budget would come from a refinancing effort. Another $20 million would flow in fiscal year 2017. The bonds in question have an average interest rate of 4.9 percent, but if refinanced the interest rate is expected to be lower than 2.34 percent. She calls the refinancing conservative and says it would be irresponsible not to consider a money-saving measure for the state.

By “money-saving,” what the governor means is that she’s using the restructuring to borrow around $84 million in the first two years.  In the third year, the state will actually have to pay about $10 million more in debt service, and the years will change between costing more and costing less over the refinancing period.  As shown in a table included with Bogdan’s article, when the state reaches the end, in 2032, it will have actually paid $13.6 million more in debt service.

That’s where the governor deploys an accounting trick to make the analysis a bit murkier.  In the words of Budget Officer Thomas Mullaney, “The key here is that we would not enter into this transaction if the state would not ultimately come out ahead.”

He’s referring to the fact that if you look at the present value of the changes in payments up and down over the sixteen years — in other words, adjust them for inflation to what they would be in today’s dollars — the real value of the changes is actually $225,238 less in debt service.

Like so many of the “bold and innovative” moves in the governor’s budget, that’s misleading.  For one thing, the assumed inflation rate is critical.  A rough spreadsheet suggests it’s 2.97%.  In that case, it would erase these so-called savings if inflation turns out to be 2.91%.  Below that, we’ll be well into negative territory.*

For another thing, the state isn’t going to treat the refinance like a restricted fund.  The state will spend the savings in the years that there are savings and will have to come up with the money in years that there are costs.  The money is going to have to come from somewhere to pay the extra debt service, and that somewhere will very probably have been worth more to the economy than simply inflation.  (Hey, maybe the governor should invest the savings along with the state pension fund, which the state assumes makes 7.5% profit every year.)

Simply refinancing from 4.9% to 2.34% interest for the same number of years would have saved a great deal of money that could have been left in the hands of Rhode Islanders.  Whatever the governor’s room full of smaht people do for economic development, they have to do better not only than the cost of the refinance, but also the economic activity of people acting without the government’s meddling.

UPDATE (03/27/15 8:37 p.m.): According to the governor’s office, the estimated rate of inflation is 2.44%, which my math leads me to believe would produce a $2 million cost to the refinancing, in current dollars.  I’ve asked for more insight into the governor’s math, but if anybody has an idea, I’d be interested to hear it.  There also must be something incorrect in the information out of the governor’s office.  They’re saying the refinancing is of $160 million of debt, but the Projo’s numbers have the state paying nearly that amount every year.

* Posting this of a Friday afternoon, I got my signs reversed.  I’ve fixed the relevant text.

Governor’s Office: Apartment Tax Not Intended

Ever since Governor Gina Raimondo announced a proposal to impose a statewide property tax on residential properties over $1 million, if their owners do not live in them for a majority of the year, debate has raged as to what would be included.  Much of the discussion has been behind the scenes, among people who follow Rhode Island policy closely and representatives of groups that might be affected.

Initially, anonymous blogger CoffeeBlackRI suggested that the tax would apply to rental apartment properties worth more than the threshold.  I replied with an interpretation of the law suggesting that it would not.

The director of Office of Revenue Analysis, Paul Dion, told Katherine Gregg of the Providence Journal that his estimate of revenue that would be produced by the tax included “two-to-five-family residences,” along with other properties.  Some observers took that as conclusive evidence that the tax would apply to small apartment complexes.

A budget summary from Ted Nesi, posted today on WPRI’s Web site, seemed to confirm the interpretation.  Nesi quoted from a report by the House Fiscal office, “It appears that the intent of the legislation and the revenue estimate excludes apartment buildings from the tax; however, as written, the tax would apply to these properties.”

In a statement to the Ocean State Current, Raimondo spokeswoman Marie Aberger echoed House Fiscal’s report, affirming that “the intent is to exclude apartment buildings.”

Specifically, the intent is to apply it to the following categories, if they are worth $1 million or more: non-owner occupied single family residences, two-to-five family residences (only if they are non-owner occupied and not available for long-term tenants), and non-owner occupied estates, seasonal and beach property, residential condos, time shared condos, dockominiums, mobile homes, and vacant residential land.

The “two-to-five family residences” category was included in the estimate from Revenue Analysis because available data does not allow finer differentiation.  For example, wealthy seasonal residents often employ groundskeepers who reside on the property year round.

According to Aberger, the administration’s plan had been to draft more-specific guidance while writing regulations to enact the law, if passed.  “However,” she continued, “we are happy to work during the legislative process to modify the language, if necessary, to ensure that the intent of the legislation is carried out.”

The “Twice on the Pipe” Tax

There appears to be unanimity that I was reading the legal language of the “Taylor Swift Tax” on second homes too closely when I wrote that it should not apply to apartment buildings.  Lawyers for landlord groups, analysts in the executive branch, and analysts in the legislative branch all agree that the net will snag smallish multifamily units, if they’re worth $1 million or more.

If we’re looking for a new nickname for the proposal, I’d suggest the “Tony Orlando Tax.”

But frankly, I’m still suspicious.  As a long-running concern, I think it’s a grave problem that all of us in the policy and law game fall to the legalistic practice of pretending that profound shifts in legal language (like taxing a “privilege” rather than a “property”) are just immaterial “terms of art.”  At the end of the day, the law isn’t what’s written on paper; it’s what lawyers and bureaucrats agree that it means, as a sort of legal clerisy.

Well, these things are “terms of art” until they aren’t… when we discover on some massive, crucial question that (quoting some future judge) “the principle that the ability to have and hold property is a privilege granted by the state is firmly established in the law.”  When that day comes, we’ll learn that the words as written actually did mean something, even though legal experts on both sides of the issue advised us to focus on more immediate traps and loopholes.

As a practical political matter, I have a hard time believing that Governor Raimondo and her staff thought they’d try selling this as a tax on rich vacation-home owners only to turn around once it had been passed and declare, “Ah-ha!  We fooled you landlords!”  At the same time, it’s difficult to believe that they didn’t pick up on the fact that even the guy estimating the revenue for them included such properties.

I suggest the new nickname of the “Tony Orlando Tax” not just because his most famous song was about a guy in an apartment, and not just because the video was filmed in front of a mansion-looking building, but because I think there’s political significance to the lyric:  “knock three times on the ceiling, if you want tax; twice on the pipe, if the answer is ‘no.'”

In order to sneak in the leading edge of a statewide tax on property — on the very privilege of owning property in the first place — the governor knocks on the ceiling asking to tax vacation property, vacant land, and year-round properties.  Then the landlords bang on the pipe to signal, “no, just the other two” and the mistake of including the most organized target for the tax is fixed.  Everybody’s happy, right?

The state’s Director of Revenue Analysis, Paul Dion, tells me that 111 of the 2,359 properties over $1 million that he included in his estimate are “two-to-five family residences,” accounting for 4.7% of the total take.*  That’s about $550,000 total — an easy concession to make in the course of negotiating a budget through the legislature.

* Note: An earlier version of this post characterized the 111 properties as “multifamily rentals,” which was how I asked the question. I should have used “two-to-five family residences,” which is how he responded.

More on Raimondo’s Outrageous Health Insurance Tax

Kathy Gregg has more details on Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s proposed tax on health insurance in Rhode Island in today’s Providence Journal, and it looks increasingly outrageous.  First is a little budgeting trick.  The tax kicks in midway through the fiscal year, so on an annual basis, it’s actually twice the cost that the budget advertises:

Targeted to take effect in January 2016, the premium surcharge that Raimondo proposes would raise an initial $6.2 million of the $30.9 million the Raimondo administration is proposing to spend during the year that begins on July 1 to operate the state’s “health-insurance marketplace’’ over the next year.

Over the first full 12 months, HealthSource RI administrators anticipate the surcharge will raise $11.8 million.

And the rate is outrageous, too — above what the federal exchange would charge, for most users:

It would be assessed on the premiums of all health plans purchased in Rhode Island by individuals (at a rate of 3.8 percent) and small employers (1 percent).

As Gregg reports, that will be over $400 per year for some members.  The rate is also higher than the similar taxes in Massachusetts (2.5-3.0%) and Connecticut (1.35%).

One thing that is misleading, I believe, is spokeswoman Maria Tocco’s explanation that, per federal law, “a premium assessment has to be levied this way, as premiums must be the same inside and outside the Exchange for the same products.”  As I explained yesterday, the governor’s proposed language imposes the rates based on market, not plan.  In other words, the governor is taxing all plans whether or not they are offered in the exchange.

I imagine she’s doing that because the rate they’d have to charge in order to follow the method of the federal exchange and still pay for HealthSource would have made Rhode Islanders eyes pop (and further prodded the exodus of productive people from the state).  As healthcare expert Sean Parnell estimated for an article I wrote, last year, applying the federal rate to Rhode Island’s exchange would generate around $5 million.  Roughly speaking, Raimondo’s tax is more than twice as costly, so if it were structured like the federal fee, the rate would have to be up to nearly 8%.

Obviously, more plans and more people means a lower rate.  That’s why Massachusetts and Connecticut can charge less even though their exchanges cost more.  But none of this is news.  The RI Center for Rhode Island has long been saying that Rhode Island’s market is simply too small to justify its own health benefits exchange.

Even agents of the state of Rhode Island admitted this, back when they were free to be honest.  Last June, I quoted from a 2009 report reviewing the lieutenant governor’s proposal for an exchange like HealthSource.  Their conclusion back then?  “Insufficient scale to justify investment. Do not pursue.”

What’s changed that has a supposedly financially savvy governor touting this as economic development?  Perhaps that they think they can get away with it, now.

Beware: The Health Exchange Premium Fee Is a Simple Tax

With publication of the legislation enacting Governor Raimondo’s budget, as House bill 5900, some of the details left ambiguous in standard budget documents can be checked.  One of the more disconcerting is the supposed “fee” assessed on health insurance premiums in the state.

The budget presentation avoids naming what the “fee” is, but the talk and reportage during and after last night’s speech by the governor presented it as a fee structure similar to the way the federal government pays for the federal health benefits exchange.

Reviewing the legislation makes it clear that this is not the case.  The new revenue stream for HealthSource RI is simply a tax.

As I explained during the last legislative session, the federal exchange fee works like so:

  • Health insurers are assessed a 3.5% fee on the premiums of plans sold through the exchange.
  • They are not permitted to charge different prices for the same plan on or off of the exchange.
  • Therefore, the price of the fees must be spread across all people who purchase that particular plan, whether on or off of the exchange.

According to the governor’s legislation, the new health insurance tax would work very differently:

  • HealthSource will determine its budget for the year.
  • That total will be allocated to the small employer market and the individual market in proportion to each market’s participation in the exchange.
  • The insurer will increase all premiums in each market by the percentage necessary to generate the necessary money.

One consequence of this different method that must appeal to our progressive governor is that it shifts the tax burden toward Rhode Islanders with more-expensive plans.  No matter what the proportion of bronze, silver, gold, or whatever plans on the exchange, the tax is a flat percentage on all plans, so people buying more-expensive plans will pay more.

A consequence that surely appeals to the state’s government-first establishment is that there’s no escape from the tax.  It doesn’t matter whether insurers participate in the health benefits exchange or not, and it doesn’t matter if they sell different plans on or off of the exchange.

But the most important consequence is that this fee is completely unrelated to actual usage of the exchange.  Again, it’s just a tax, collected via health insurance plans.

According to the governor’s budget, HealthSource will cost $30.9 million to operate next fiscal year, but $24.7 million of that is still coming from the feds.  You don’t have to agree with me that the Obama administration is breaking the law by continuing to pay for state exchanges to understand that the operating costs of HealthSource are guaranteed to grow by leaps and bounds, as federal involvement tapers off.

In other words, nobody who cares about Rhode Islanders or the local economy should want to cross this particular Rubicon.  Once this new tax is law, all bets are off.  The success or failure of the exchange becomes immaterial.  The General Assembly never has to face the heat for increasing taxes.  The bloated government start-up company that is HealthSource RI becomes just another factor driving up the costs of Rhode Islanders’ insurance.

Possible Budgeting Illusions from Raimondo

Shortly after Governor Gina Raimondo gave her presentation on Rhode Island’s economy and its budget implications, somebody asked me what I expected in her budget.  Here’s a succinct summary of the presentation from the Cranston Herald editorial board:

Neither cuts nor tax increases, the presentation asserts, will solve the problem. The sales tax would need to be raised from its current 7 percent to 8.8 percent in fiscal 2017 to close the projected budget gap. Meanwhile, the $255.6 million shortfall foreseen for that year significantly exceeds the total budgets of 21 combined state agencies.

The governor’s presentation proposes instead a shifting of resources to focus on job growth, creating a “virtuous cycle” in which those investments in education, infrastructure and property tax relief expand employment opportunities and thus grow the state’s revenue base.

My expectation is that Raimondo will follow the playbook from pension reform, with these steps:

  1. Declare a dire problem, consisting of a short-term emergency and long-term doom.
  2. Propose some technocratic solution that will supposedly fix the long-term problem once and for all.
  3. Make sure that there are enough gimmicks in the solution to defuse the short-term emergency and expect attention to have drifted by the time it falls apart.

The short-term emergency, in this case, is a balanced budget for the  next fiscal year, starting this July, and the long-term doom is the unyielding projected deficits resulting, in large part, from Rhode Island’s continuing economic decline.  The expectation, then, is that Raimondo’s budget will include some sort of new revenue stream, perhaps justified by its use toward some economic development scheme, mixed with budget reductions of the “waste and fraud” variety.  Whether the elusive waste-and-fraud savings could be realized is actually immaterial, inasmuch as the budget would be balanced on paper, and adjustments could be made when the budget is reviewed in November and fixed sometime during the fiscal year, when the eyes of those few who pay attention are mainly focused on the next year’s budget.

That’s what I told the person who asked me.  It was notable, therefore, to see this in yesterday’s Providence Journal:

House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello on Tuesday disclosed that Gov. Gina Raimondo had asked him if she could include “$40 million to $50 million’’ in Medicaid cuts, as a “placeholder” in her first budget proposal, without spelling out how and where she intended to reduce spending in the $2.7 billion government subsidized health-care program.

Mattiello said the governor told him, “in very general terms that there would be some kind of a placeholder and a request for a task force to figure out the cuts.’’

Evaluating Tax Incentive Programs: Matching Practice or Kill Order?

When one reads that Rhode Island is engaged in something that might be seen as a “public policy best practice,” cynicism is usually the appropriate response. Such is the case with a Pew Charitable Trusts brief that cites Rhode Island as one of a handful of states implementing good-government reviews of economic development tax incentives.

Ten states and Washington, D.C., according to Pew, have taken steps to ensure “that tax incentives are evaluated regularly and rigorously.”

The legislation in question is a 2013 bill originating in the Rhode Island Senate, number S0734, which evaluates tax incentives and other government activities. The first section of the bill tasks the still-new Office of Management and Budget with “a comprehensive review and inventory of all reports filed by the executive office and agencies of the state with the general assembly.”

So rigorously have Rhode Island’s policymakers been reviewing all of the reports that state government pays itself to create for them that they now require a report on all of the reports that they receive.

Continue reading on Watchdog.org.