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Evaluation of Rhode Island state website

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RI.gov is the website for the state of Rhode Island.

Website evaluation

Grade2.pngB-
Budget
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Usability
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Elected Officials
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Administrative Officials
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Ethics
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Audits
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Contracts P
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Lobbying P
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Public records N
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Taxes
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State agency websitesGuide.png
Transparency grading process


This website was reviewed on January 24, 2012.

The good

  • The site has a search function and is fairly easy to navigate.
  • Agencies and offices are listed, with contact information on their pages.[1]
  • Budgets are posted.[2]
    • Includes current budget and previous budgets.
  • Tax information is available.[3]
  • Audits are posted.[4]
  • Ethics information is available.[5]
  • Lobbyists are listed.[6]
  • Some information is available on the Rhode Island Access to Public Records Act.[7]
  • Bid opportunities are posted.[8]
    • Site publishes information on open bids, canceled bids and awarded bids.
    • Awarded contracts are posted but do not appear to contain price information.[9]

The bad

U.S. PIRG rating

The U.S. PIRG rated the state website a "D-" on providing online access to government spending data, with a score of 49 out of 100.[10]

The scorecard that U.S. PIRG uses has 13 items and focuses on a separate state website that is searchable at the checkbook level. Sunshine Review, on the other hand, focuses on the availability of separate spending-related items; they do not need to be in a central database.

Item Possible points Notes
Checkbook-level website 30 Detailed expenditure information, including individual payments made to vendors.
Search by vendor 8 Ability to search checkbook-level expenditures by contractor or vendor name.
Search by keyword of activity 8 Ability to search checkbook-level expenditures by type of service or item purchased, category, or government fund.
Search by agency or departments 8 Ability to search checkbook-level expenditures by branch of government.
Contract or summary information 10 A copy of the contract or detailed summary information is included for the expenditures.
Historical expenditures 5 Checkbook-level expenditure data from previous fiscal years.
Grants and economic development incentives information 10 Awardee-specific grants and/or economic development incentives are included in the checkbook tool or elsewhere with specific award amounts.
Downloadable 3 Information can be downloaded for data analysis.
Tax expenditure reports 10 The state's tax expenditure report is linked on the website.
Off-budget agencies 2 Expenditures from quasi-public agencies are included on the website.
City and county budgets 2 Financial information for some local governments is accessible.
ARRA Funding 2 A link is provided to the state's website that tracks funding related to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
Feedback 2 Website users are capable and encouraged to give feedback about the site.

There are several similarities between the checklists. For both checklists, the searchability of information factors in to how usability is rated. Both checklists have an item relating to contracts, tax information, and the budget. The U.S. PIRG requires information for quasi public entities; Sunshine Review requires information on lobbying, which includes quasi public entities' lobbying activity.

Unlike the Sunshine Review checklist with each check worth one point, different items on the U.S. PIRG checklist merit more or fewer points, depending on the item.

State Integrity Investigation

The 2012 State Integrity Investigation graded state ethics laws according to an "Integrity Index." The index was created by researching 330 "Integrity Indicators" across 14 categories of state government. The report assigned grades based on what laws are on the books, and whether or not they were effectively enforced. The report was a project of The Center for Public Integrity, Global Integrity, and Public Radio International.[11]

Rhode Island received an overall grade of C, or 74%. It ranked 10 out of the 50 states.[12]

Category Grade
Public Access to Information B-
Political Financing B+
Executive Accountability C
Legislative Accountability D+
Judicial Accountability F
State Budget Processes D+
State Civil Service Management F
Procurement B+
Internal Auditing B+
Lobbying Disclosure C+
State Pension Fund Management C-
Ethics Enforcement Agencies C-
State Insurance Commissions C+
Redistricting A

Transparency Legislation

Twenty-seven state and local districts violated state laws on open meetings and public records, a GoLocalProv analysis found. Of 27 repeat offenders since 2010, six were fire districts, four were towns, and four were town councils, according to data from the state Attorney General’s Open Government Unit. According to the report violations ranged from failure to cite the proper reason for going into closed session to locking the door to a public meeting.

Biggest Violators[13]
Government Entityy Number of Violations
Albion Fire District 28
Western Coventry Fire District 11
Manville Fire District 10
Nasonville Fire District 8
West Greenwich Town Council 8
Town of North Providence 6
Bristol Water Authority 5
City of Pawtucket 5
International Charter School of Pawtucket 5
Pascoag Fire District 5
North Cumberland Fire District 4
Providence Economic Development Partnership 4
East Providence Police Department 3
Town of North Smithfield 3
Burlington Tax Assessor 2
Barrington Town Council 2
City of Central Falls 2
Hopkinton Town Council 2
New Shoreham and Electrical Utilities Task Group 2
Office of Long Term Care Ombudsman 2
Pawtucket School Committee 2
Portsmouth Town Council 2
Providence School Department 2
RI Department of Corrections 2
RI Economic Development Corporation 2
Town of Lincoln 2
Town of Naragansett 2

Resources

Resource Run by Includes Year URL
DOA Transparency Portal State Income and expenditures 2011 http://www.ri.gov/opengovernment/DOA/
Recovery Rhode Island State Stimulus tracking 2011 http://www.recovery.ri.gov/
The Money Trail RISC Foundation Money tracking 2008 http://themoneytrail.org/track.php
Transparency Train Ocean State Policy Research Institute Contracts 2010 http://www.transparencytrain.com/
Follow the Money National Institute on Money in Politics Campaign contributions 2010 http://www.followthemoney.org/database/state_overview.phtml?y=2010&s=RI

Salaries

State and Local Employees

Thousands of state workers will see a 3-percent across-the-board raise on Jan. 2 and another 3-percent raise in mid-June.[14] The last raise for state employees was 2.5% in July 2009.[14] The state budget office has calculated that the two raises will cost the state an extra $12,051,000 in the current budget year, and $24.5 million more next year.[14] That estimate does not include the cost the state will incur when salaries automatically increase for state employees as they reach certain benchmarks in their careers, called longevity bonuses.[14]

To avoid layoffs, state employee unions agreed to 12 unpaid work days, for which their members could be compensated later in either cash or extra paid days off. The final four will be reflected in the paychecks they receive on the third Friday of every month from January 2011 to April 2011.[14]

According to 2008 Census data, the state of Rhode Island and local governments in the state employed a total of 59,761 people.[15] Of those employees, 47,755 were full-time employees receiving a net pay of $225,221,773 per month and 12,006 were part-time employees paid $12,127,083 per month.[15] More than 55% of those employees, or 33,310 employees, were in education or higher education.[15]

State Employee Benefits

Holidays

State employees receive the following 11 paid holidays[16]:

  • New Year's Day
  • Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
  • Memorial Day
  • Independence Day
  • Labor Day
  • Victory Day
  • Columbus Day
  • Election Day
  • Veterans' Day
  • Thanksgiving Day
  • Christmas Day

Sick leave

Each state employee working a 40 hour week earns 15 sick days per year, which can be carried over each year to a maximum of 125 days.[17]

Vacation

Vacation time is accrued each pay period. It takes one year to accrue your total number of vacation days.[17]

Years of Service Total Vacation Days
0-5 10
5-10 15
10-15 18
15-20 20
20-25 26
OVER 25 28

Personal Days

Each employee shall be granted four personal days per year.[17]

Insurance

Medical

The State of Rhode Island’s medical plan is a PPO that includes prescription coverage[18] that is administered by UnitedHealthcare (UHC).[19] The amount of the employee's coshare varies depending on the employee's salary, and ranges from 15-25%, and the biweekly coshare amount for individual medical coverage ranges from $34.73 to $57.89.[20] The state pays $231.54 biweekly for individual coverage.[21]

Vision

Vision insurance is also available to employees who elect to participate.[22] The biweekly coshare amount ranges from $0.48 to $0.80.[20]

Dental

State employees may participate in the Dental Insurance PPO.[23][24] The biweekly coshare amount ranges from $2.06 to $3.46.[20]

Life

Employees may purchase basic and supplemental life insurance through payroll deduction and employees are responsible for the full cost of both.[25]

Additional

Employees may elect to purchase (through payroll deductions) short term disability insurance and/or cancer insurance.[26]

Retirement

Most Rhode Island state employees and certified public school teachers participate in the Employees Retirement System of Rhode Island.(ERSRI).[27]

State employees generally contribute 8.75% of their salary per year.[28][17] For state employees, the state contributes an actuarially determined percentage of the member's salary. In 2007, the rate was 18.4%.[28]

All members with 10 or more years of service are eligible for retirement on or after age 60 or at any age if they have credit for 28 years of service.[28]

A Deferred Compensation Plan allows employees to accumulate tax-deferred savings for retirement. Employees can elect automatic payroll deductions, subject to the annual maximums. The maximum for 2009 is $16,500 ($22,000 for employees age 50 and over). The state offers plans from three providers.[29]

Other Benefits

  • Medical and Dependent Care Flexible Spending Accounts allow employees to use pre-tax dollars to pay for health-related or care-related expenses.[30]
  • Employee Assistance Program offers trained counselors to provide professional assistance with a wide range of issues.[31]
  • Group Legal through which employees may purchase pre-paid legal services.[32]

Pensions

Rhode Island administers four public pension systems. In FY2008, the systems had a combined funding level of 61.1%, with a total liability of $11.2 billion and an unfunded liability nearly three times payroll.[33]

The state budget bill Rhode Island House Bill 7397 HB 7397, Article 6, removed a statutory obligation to make certain payments to the state retirement system for state employees and for teachers.[34][35]

Employees Retirement System of Rhode Island ("ERS") is severely underfunded. It operated on a pay-as-you-go basis from 1936 to the late 1970s. Although the state has made 100% of its contributions since the 1980s, the system is still just 57%. "You’re paying for the sins of the past,” said Frank Karpinski, executive director of the Rhode Island system.[33] A recent study by economists Joshua Rauh of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and Robert Novy-Marx of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business concluded that the Rhode Island pension fund will run out of money in 2023.[36]

Contribution Rate

State employees in the ERS generally contribute 8.75% of their salary per year.[28][17] For state employees, the state contributes an actuarially determined percentage of the member's salary. In 2007, the rate was 18.4%.[28]

Eligibility

All members employed by the state prior to 2010 with 10 or more years of service are eligible for retirement on or after age 60 or at any age if they have credit for 28 years of service.[28]

Increased Retirement Age

In 2010 Rhode Island lawmakers not only increased the retirement age for new workers from 60 to 62, but they also changed the retirement age for current workers.[33] Now the minimum retirement age for current workers depends on their length of service.[33][37]

Cost of Living Adjustments

Rhode Island included in its FY2011 budget a limit on the cost-of-living adjustments provided future retirees to the pensioner's first $35,000 in benefits and require eligible individuals to wait until age 65 to begin collecting the annual COLAs.[38]

Funding Levels

The state's pension liabilities can be calculated in a variety of ways, which yield different numbers. Below are the numbers as calculated by to the Pew Center on the States,[39] the American Enterprise Institute[40] and Professors Robert Novy-Marx of the University of Chicago and Joshua Rauh of Northwestern University, Kellogg Graduate School of Management.[41]

In Thousands
PEW (2008) AEI (2008) Kellogg (2009)
$4,353,892 $15,005,840 $13,900,000

Public Records

The Rhode Island Access to Public Records Act (APRA) is a law, first enacted in 1979, that guarantees access to public records of government bodies at all levels in Rhode Island. APRA is defined in Chapter 38.2 of the Rhode Island General Laws; this chapter has 15 different subsections detailing aspects of APRA.

APRA was enacted in 1979, and then significantly revised in 1991, 1998 and 2008.

Rhode Island was the forty-ninth state to enact a FOIA law.

The Rhode Island Open Meetings Act legislates the methods by which public meetings are conducted.

To learn more about how to make a public records request in this state, please see: Rhode Island FOIA procedures.

External links

References

  1. RI.gov, "Agencies & Officials," accessed January 24, 2012
  2. RI.gov, "Budget," accessed January 24, 2012
  3. RI.gov, "Division of Taxation," accessed January 24, 2012
  4. RI.gov, "Financial Reports," accessed January 24, 2012
  5. RI.gov, "Ethics," accessed January 24, 2012
  6. RI.gov, "LobbyTracker," accessed January 24, 2012
  7. RI.gov, "Open Government," accessed January 24, 2012
  8. RI.gov, "Bidding," accessed January 24, 2012
  9. RI.gov, "MPA search," accessed January 24, 2012
  10. US PIRG, Following the Money: How the 50 States Rate in Providing Online Access to Government Spending Data, March 14, 2012
  11. "50 states and no winners," State Integrity Investigation, StateIntegrity.org
  12. Rhode Island Corruption Risk Report Card, State Integrity Investigation, StateIntegrity.org
  13. Go Local Providence, The most secretive government agencies, July 9, 2012
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 14.4 The Providence Journal "R.I. state employees will get 2 raises in 6 months in 2011" Dec. 1, 2010
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 2008 Rhode Island Public Employment U.S. Census Data
  16. Calendar - Holidays
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 17.3 17.4 Benefit Summary
  18. Plan Summary
  19. State Employee Benefits Medical
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 Insurance Co-Shares
  21. Health Insurance Rates
  22. Employee Benefits Vision
  23. Dental insurance highlights
  24. Employee Benefits Dental
  25. Life Insurance
  26. Disability and Cancer Insurance
  27. ERSRI Home Page
  28. 28.0 28.1 28.2 28.3 28.4 28.5 ERSRI Annual Report 2007
  29. Deferred Compensation
  30. Flex Spending Accounts
  31. Employee Assistance Program
  32. Group Legal
  33. 33.0 33.1 33.2 33.3 Pew Center on the States "The Trillion Dollar Gap" Feb. 2010
  34. National Conference of State Legislators "Pensions and Retirement Plan Enactments in 2010 State Legislatures" July 19, 2010
  35. Rhode Island House Bill 7397 January 2010
  36. New Mexico, Study: NM state pension plan will run out of money in 13 years, Sept. 9, 2010
  37. The Associated Press "A look at state pension changes" Sept. 15, 2010
  38. The Providence Journal "R.I. House, Senate put $7.86B budget plan on fast track to governor" June 5, 2010
  39. "State Pensions and Retiree Healthcare Benefits: The Trillion Dollar Gap,” Pew Center on the States, accessed January 4, 2011
  40. Biggs, Andrew, “The Market Value of Public-Sector Pension Deficits,” AEI Outlook Series, no. 1 (2010)
  41. Novy-Marx, Robert and Joshua Rauh, 2010, "Public Pension Promises: How Big Are They and What Are They Worth," Journal of Finance (forthcoming)