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Let’s Level the Liquor Playing Field

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

Indiana’s alcohol laws will drive you to drink.

We all know how ridiculous it is that you can’t buy alcohol on Sunday or cold beer at a grocery store or gas station (make that most gas stations).  But did you know in a liquor store you can’t sell cold soda or bottled still water, but you can get by carbonated water in a bottle, it’s called a commodity restriction which limits what can and can’t be sold in a liquor store?  And no one under 21 is allowed in a liquor store, even if you’re accompanied by a parent, because exposing kids to liquor in a store is bad, even though when they go with their parents to the grocery store, it’s right there. Exactly.  All this is the result of competing business interests, and it is time to level the playing field once and for all.

Indiana lawmakers this week are planning a crackdown on Rickers, by “clarifying” the law so that Rickers can no longer sell cold beer at its gas stations in Columbus and Sheridan, even though it figured out a perfectly legal way to do it and did it all above board.  Instead of punishing Rickers, lawmakers should finally start to have the discussion about bringing this state’s alcohol laws into the 21st Century.  

The criticism has always been that liquor stores are under more restrictions than other places and allowing grocery and big box stores to sell cold beer or on Sundays would be unfair.  I agree, to a point, so let’s level the playing field.  There are quite a few things lawmakers can do to introduce sobriety to the state’s alcohol scheme.

Lawmakers can repeal the liquor store commodity restriction and let them sell whatever they want, just like the grocery and big box stores.  They can let minors enter a liquor store as long as they are accompanied by a parent or guardian.    Also, require anyone working in grocery or big box store who handles liquor to be trained and licensed to ring up alcohol.  Allow all retailers to sell cold beer.   And get rid of the prohibition on Sunday sales.

These are a quick handful of things lawmakers can do to bring some common sense to Indiana’s alcohol laws.  There are also needs to be a restructuring of the permit and distribution system, but that’s another blog post for another time.

But if the Speaker and Senate President ProTempore want to clarify the state’s alcohol laws, they could start with my suggestions.   Now if you don’t mind, I have to go online and book my next trip to Denver.  After writing about Indiana’s alcohol laws, I’m going to need a lot more than my usual scotch, gin, vodka and rum.


Hey Indiana Lawmakers, Thanks for Nothing!!!

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

Two years ago Indiana was in the middle of a level five political hurricane called RFRA.  A few years before that Democrats and Republicans deadlocked over “right to work, ” and Democrats fled to Champaign, IL bringing the government to a halt.  And just last year we were all pondering whether then Governor Mike Pence could survive a re-election bid.

How I miss those days.

Don’t get me wrong, the substantive public policy guy in me can fully appreciate coming up with a 20-year plan to fund roads and infrastructure, tackling opioid and heroin abuse, creating responsible early childhood education programs along with workforce development.   But then there’s the guy who loves the gossip, rumor and blatant political innuendo sprinkled with conjecture and wild-eyed speculation.  And lawmakers, this session, aren’t giving me a whole lot of that.

My kingdom for a real divisive social issue!!!

Yes, there have been a handful of controversial issues concerning abortion, guns and school prayer.  But let’s be honest, this is Indiana, so that’s just par for the course.  And the two bills that could have raised a stir, permitless constitutional carry and a ban on all abortions didn’t make it out of the gate.  The gun bill went to a summer study committee, and the “ban on all abortions” bill didn’t make it out of the birth canal.  But just think of how much fun we could have had if they did?

Even Sunday Sales wasn’t brought up this session.  What’s a legislative session without Sunday sales, pretty darn boring if you ask me!

Instead of days and weeks of obsessing over lawmakers’ Twitter posts or the pictures of themselves that end up on their phones or adult websites, the conversation is about how much, if at all, the cigarette tax should be increased to reduce the costs associated with smoking and also indirectly help fill a budget hole created by shifting the entire sales tax on gasoline to road funding.

What kind of government is this?  Eric Holcomb, Brian Bosma, David Long, Scott Pelath, Tim Lanane, you guys are killing me by giving me nothing but substance to work with here.   And Suzanne Crouch, Curtis Hill, Connie Lawson, Kelly Mitchell and Tera Klutz you guys haven’t been much help either.  All you’ve been doing is your job as opposed to helping create political distractions that are fun to write about.

Even the big potential political land mine I am keeping an eye that could blow things up in this state (See my next Cheat Sheet) has nothing to do with lawmakers behaving badly, but everything to do with real, substantive public policy.  This is no way to run a government, folks.

A government where lawmakers come to work, have real discussions about the major issues of the day, have fully realized that kicking the can down the road doesn’t help and instead want to tackle major issues head on?  Look at this, a state with four percent unemployment, a near $2 billion state reserve, and jobs going unfilled because there aren’t enough skilled workers?!   Ugh!!!  What kind of world is this?!

The next thing you know this will become the norm.  Lawmakers will go to work, address major issues and then go home to their constituents while keeping the Statehouse drama down to a bare minimum.  If they keep this up, I may need to find a new line of work.

Oh well, I guess if you like a government that functions, the 2017 session of the Indiana General Assembly is for you.   I guess you can’t have everything.   Luckily, I’ll always have my home state of Illinois.

Hey Governor Bruce Rauner and Speaker Mike Madigan, I think we all need to get reacquainted.


Time for a Single-Payer Health Care System

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

(With Congress on the road to repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, I thought it was appropriate to dust off this column I wrote back in 2012.   It was brilliant then and is even more so now. )

As a conservative-libertarian leaning political pundit, I am now convinced more than ever that it is high time in this country for a single-payer health care system. Before you go into cardiac arrest, you might want to read the rest of this.

You know the Supreme Court upheld most of the President’s health care plan last week, I think the results will be horrible for Indiana because more people on Medicaid will put more pressure on the state budget to an estimated tune of at least $2 billion. The excise tax on medical devices will likely have a negative impact on places like Warsaw where the medical device sector is key to that region’s economy. And throw in the fact that more people will be on a government program just can’t be a good thing. So what’s a pundit to do? Advocate a single-payer health care system, with the single-payer being you, the individual, who goes out and gets your own health insurance. We can get there by ending employer-provided health insurance.

Most of us get coverage through our jobs, and if you have no job, odds are you don’t have insurance. And health-care costs eat up a significant portion of a business’s budget. If you eliminate the break, there really isn’t a reason for an employer to provide insurance and they will start dropping employees like a rock. The plus side of this is that health-care costs will also drop. Part of the problem with our health-care system is no one knows how much anything costs because a third party is picking up the tab; this is a recipe for disaster.

And I don’t believe employers dropping insurance will lead to fewer insured. That free market is an odd thing. You will be amazed at how many companies will pop up providing insurance. And since businesses no longer have the expense they can actually hire more people. As a small business owner, I constantly hear stories from people who want to bring people on board full-time but can’t afford to, primarily because of health-care costs.And when we are directly responsible for paying for our own health care, we tend to take better care of ourselves. By the way, you already buy your car insurance, homeowner’s insurance, and life insurance.

And for those of you wondering about those who really can’t afford insurance, I don’t see any reason why states can’t adopt a moderate plan where the working poor, for a small fee, can purchase a basic, bare bones plan.And there are some other things that can be done like allow insurance to be sold across state lines. Then, however, insurance companies would have to register in states where they sell their products, and we could eliminate mandates on what health insurance providers must cover. This approach makes a lot more sense in the 21st Century than more taxes and more government regulation.



A Toll Instead of a Tax

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

As Indiana lawmakers enter the second half of the 2017 session, the big focus will continue to be on roads and infrastructure and how do we pay for them.    Indiana has $1 billion in annual road needs and needs a long-term plan to make it happen.   House Republicans get major kudos for have the courage to raise the gas tax to help pay for part of the costs.  And anyone who thinks this can be done without a tax increase has been inhaling too many fumes.

Where I do have concerns is the use of raising the cigarette tax to indirectly plug the hole created by immediately shifting all the sales tax on gasoline to roads.  The sales tax on gasoline contributes about $300 million to the general revenue fund.  Increasing the cigarette tax would allow Indiana to pay for Medicaid while shifting dollars back to the general fund.   The problem is that raising the cigarette tax could put the state on bumpy ground down the road.

When Indiana increased the cigarette tax in 2007 by 44 cents to 99.5 cents a pack, revenue jumped from $359 million to $515 million.  However, over the past ten years, those numbers have dropped.  In 2015, the cigarette tax took in an estimated $431 million.  The good thing is that the declining revenue means fewer people are smoking, but the bad news is also that fewer people are smoking and bringing in less revenue.  Of course the trade off is the costs to the state and business is that fewer people smoking means lower health care costs and more productivity.

I think tolling is the better route to take instead of relying in part on a declining tax to help fill a budget hole.    As I have written before, tolls are the ultimate “user fee” because if you don’t use the road, you don’t have to pay the toll.  Tolls also help you capture out of state traffic, which is estimated to be about 25 percent of Indiana’s interstate use.   Secondly, tolls are a much more stable, long-term source of funding.  And third, no one pays a toll until the road is built.  That way you see and get to use what you paid for.  Now how much and what you would toll remains to be seen, but if you tolled everything possible you could generate more than $1.3 billion.

So as lawmakers go forward to figure out how to pay for Indiana’s infrastructure, I strongly suggest my friends at Capitol and Washington move tolling to the forefront of the conversation and perhaps put the cigarette tax increase on hold.   Tolls are a much more stable source of funding, and with more people driving, more people will pay.  As opposed to a cigarette tax where if it’s effective, you end up getting less of it.

Donnelly Will Be Tough to Beat

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

I have some friendly advice for my Republican friends regarding Democratic U.S. Senator Joe Donnelly.  He is not going to be a pushover come next year. Allow me to elaborate.

Opioid abuse and veterans suicide.  We all know that no part of Indiana has been spared the impact of heroin, opioid, and prescription drug abuse.  In fact, I would argue they’ve had even more of devastating effect in the rural and suburban areas than in the “big city.”   Donnelly authored several measures that were part of the bi-partisan Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act to help communities hit hard by the heroin and opioid epidemic the help they need.  He did the same for veterans impacted by post-traumatic stress disorder.  Donnelly has worked to improve access and the quality of mental health for veterans and has done it in a bipartisan way.

Trump appointments.  Donnelly hasn’t been an automatic no vote.  In fact, a check of the record shows he voted for more Trump nominees than he voted against.  He voted for Trump’s nominees for Transportation, UN Ambassador, Homeland Security, Small Business Administration, CIA, Defense, Commerce and Veterans Affairs.   Donnelly voted against Trump’s nominees for Education, Treasury, Management and Budget, Health & Human Services, Attorney General and State.  It would have been a 50-50 split had Donnelly been present for a vote on Trump’s EPA pick, Scott Pruit, but he was in East Chicago with Governor Eric Holcomb for an emergency meeting on the lead contamination crisis hitting the city.

Constituent Service.   This is an area that can make or break an elected official.  And while Republicans may not be crazy about Donnelly, they all respect his office’s constituent service operations. They hit all 92 counties in 2016, either hosting or participating in more than 550 events in 122 cities over 223 days.   They also resolved more than 2,065 cases for Hoosiers that were having issues with the federal government and got more than $2.5 million in benefits to the people who needed them.  Donnelly also stood by the workers at Carrier and was extremely vocal about jobs sent overseas.

Now while all this help Donnelly, he is by no chance a shoe-in in 2018 as demonstrated by the 2016 results.  However, neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton will be on the ballot to either help or hurt the down the ballot races.   And although Indiana is a traditionally red state, Democrats can win here under the right circumstances.   And mid-term elections tend to benefit the party out of power.    I expect the Senate race to be extremely competitive.   My Republican friends should be well aware of that.  I can assure you Donnelly is.


So What Exactly is a “Working Family”?

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

I was listening a debate recently between two Indiana lawmakers and the subject came up regarding “working families”.  One said the other’s policies would hurt working families in Indiana.  I’ve been hearing that a lot lately.  One political party says the other political party’s policies are bad for “working families.”    And it’s not just the state level, but “working families” seem to get mentioned a lot by politicians these days.   

But in all the shouting and posturing, one thing comes to mind; what exactly is a “working family”?   I know for some people the “working family” consists of blue-collar parents or the single mom trying to make ends meet.   And anyone who is not a small business owner or uses talents other than physical labor to make a living or is college educated doesn’t fit that definition.   My definition of a “working family” is a little more broad than some of my more liberal counterparts.

A “working family” is anyone who has to work for a living.   Is a couple that makes $50,000 a year more of a “working family” than one that makes $125,000 a year, but has four children to support?  Is a single mom with two kids who makes $35,000 a year more of a “working” person than the Dad who makes $50,000 but has to pay child support?

I think the term “working family” has gotten overused in the current  political debate to the point where it has become a cliché.  If you have to go to work to make a living, as most of us do, you are a working man, woman, and hermaphrodite, whatever!  Working means you go to a job and get paid for services rendered.   There’s a difference between you working for your money and your money working for you.  The Lovely Mrs. Shabazz and I work very hard to get to that latter category.  And while we’re at it, aren’t millionaires part of “working  families” too if the millionaire has a company to run to support his or her family?

Let’s just settle this debate right now and say we are “fighting for working families”?  We all want  “working families”  to have  better schools?  We all want “working families” to keep more of their paychecks?   And we all want  “working families”  to enjoy sunshine, lollipops and rainbows.   We can debate over how to best  achieve those goals, but I think we all want the same outcome for “working families”.  Agreed?  I thought so.

Now that that’s settled, next time we’ll  focus our attention next time on those “non-working families” that live off the productivity of those who actually work for a living.


Same-Sex Marriage Has Been Good for Business

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

I was in Target the other day picking up a Valentine’s Day card for my wife.   I grabbed a card and looked out the outside which read “I found the perfect woman.” I opened it expecting it to read “and you found the perfect man”, but it didn’t.  When I opened it up it said, “And so did you.”

I was a little confused for a second until I realized it was a card for a same-sex couple.    I took a second look at the card section and there were a dozen or so different cards for same-sex couples.  I put the card back, picked one for my wife and as I walked to the counter I had to marvel at two things.  First, how far and fast this issue has changed over the last decade.   Secondly, how helpful this must be for Target since you have same-sex married couples buying stuff for each other.

In fact, a recent study by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law shows from 2015-16, more than 123,000 same-sex couples got married adding more than $1.58 billion to the economy.  Some other key findings from the report included…

  • Total spending on the 123,000 marriages generated an estimated $1.58 billion, including $1.35 billion in direct wedding spending by the couples and $228 million in spending by out-of-state guests.
  • This economic boost has added an estimated $102 million to state and local coffers in the 46 states that collect state and local sales taxes.
  • This spending could support an estimated 18,900 jobs for one full year.

Not bad.   Not to mention the emotional and psychological benefits that come from healthy relationships which you can’t put a price on.

So on this Valentine’s Day, be grateful for the one’s you love and the one’s that other people love, because instead of costing you money, it looks like just the opposite.

It’s a Different World

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

This past weekend I did an interview with a local community activist who has an Internet based television show.   We taped on Saturday at a studio at 38th and High School Road.  It was in a strip mall that was full of places that most of us would likely never go.  The inside was half finished, there were bars protecting shops, like I said, it was a likely a place where most of us would never go. But that’s most of us.  For a lot of people that “mall” was their livelihood.  They bought clothes there, got haircuts there and some even purchased furniture there.  I wouldn’t,  but that’s not my world.

I bring this up because this week, lawmakers are going to hear testimony on SB 245.  The legislation would allow someone who takes out a small term loans (in our world we call them payday loans) to have up to two years to pay them back.  Currently a borrower can take out between $50 to $500.  The legislation would create a new lending option ranging from $605 to $2,500. Opponents say this is predatory because of how much would be paid over time.   I will be the first to admit that if you’re taking two years to pay back $2,500 it can add up.  However, what makes this bill different is that  all payments are applied to reducing the principal, there’s no penalty for early repayment and monthly payments are fully amortized.  So as long as you’re responsible you should be fine.


It’s easy to see the “outrage” from folks like us who live in this world.  But then again, we have access to banks, credit unions and other financial institutions that we can get money relatively easily if we need it.  Or to go further, most of us keep a few thousand dollars in the bank in case of emergency, but that’s the world we live in.  We don’t live in the world where people truly are living paycheck to paycheck and need access to capital when real life throws them an inside curve ball.

According to the Indiana Department of Financial Institutions in 2016 there were a total of 1.3 million small loan transactions which clearly shows there is a huge need for small loans in Indiana and out of those 1.3 million transactions the department received a total of two complaints.   Based on those numbers, it looks like the people most complaining about the short-term loans aren’t the ones who are using them, maybe because they don’t live in that world.  Perhaps they should spend more time there.

Revisiting Right to Work

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

I was reviewing my Facebook timeline this morning and it reminded me that it was five years ago that Indiana became a “Right to Work” (RTW) state.

In case you forgot, RTW simply means you can’t be compelled to join a union as a condition of your employment.

I immediately flashbacked to the protests at the Statehouse, although many of the protesters weren’t from Indiana.   I recall the naysayers arguing that RTW was going to destroy unions, drive down wages and the democracy was going to collapse overnight and chaos would reign throughout the land.

Well guess what?   None of that happened.

In fact, since 2012, union membership has increased overall.

According the Bureau of Labor Statistics,  the number of Hoosiers who are either members of a union or represented by union have only increased.   According to the BLS, in 2012 approximately 246,000 Hoosiers were members of a union or about 9.1 percent of the workforce. .  In 2015, that number was 283,000, about 10 percent.   In addition, the number of Hoosiers who were not members of a union, but governed by a union or union-like contract went from 269,000 to 319,000.

That wasn’t supposed to happen.

Now is union participation lower than it was 10 years ago? Yes.  But you can’t necessarily blame that on RTW.  Indiana saw its biggest drops in union participation in 2008-09 and 2011-12, both before RTW was ever passed.    And nationally, union membership has been trending downward.  It was 12.5 percent in 2005, in 2015 that number was 11.1 percent.

And here’s something else to ponder, in December 2011, according to the Department of Workforce Development, Indiana had slightly more than 470,000 manufacturing jobs, as of December 2016 that number was 519,000.

If RTW was supposed to drive down wages, that didn’t happen either. In 2012, the median income in Indiana was just under $48,940, that number was $50,532 in 2015.

So if RTW was supposed to drive down wages, destroy unions and herald armageddon, it hasn’t happened yet.  Maybe next year.


Dear White People*

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

This may sound strange, but you have my permission to use the “n-word” whenever you feel like it.  No, I take that back, you have my blessing.  

Here’s why.

If the Deputy Mayor of Neighborhoods for the City of Indianapolis can use racially offensive language to describe black people and there are no consequences,  then there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to spout off when you want and live happily ever after.

For those of you late to the game, Deputy Mayor David Hampton took issue with some African-Americans meeting with the President of the United States and he took to social media and called it a  “coon connection meeting”.  He also called it “coonery and foolery…if those are real words.”

As you can imagine, a firestorm ensued and Hampton issued the standard “sorry for the poor word choice” apology.

When approached about this by RTV 6, Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett said he was “profoundly disappointed” in Hampton’s choice of words and he could be “interpreted by many as speaking on behalf of the administration”  which the Mayor said he wanted to make clear that was not the case.

Note, Hampton is still working for the city.  And in fact will appear with the Mayor and IMPD Monday at an event for Black History Month.   Think about that while  I paraphrase a line from A Time to Kill, “now imagine he was white.”    I say this because if Hampton had a lower melanin content, he would be out on the street right now.   And that would have only been after black Democrats had stormed city hall with torches and pitchforks.

Instead there has been no real public outcry from any black elected official.  In fact, the loudest protest came from City-County Council Republican Leader Mike McQuillen, a white guy from Lawrence.

So apparently it’s okay for city officials to use racially charged language and there are no real consequences.   Which by the way, if I was a city employee who had racist feelings, I’d come to work and start getting George Wallace 1968 on people and as soon as I was called into HR for discipline I’d point to what happened to Hampton and them hand them my lawyer’s phone number.

I was always taught that that if African-Americans didn’t like white people using racial slurs against us, we might want to be somewhat consistent and not do the same to each other.  Silly me, what was I thinking?

So, if you have racist feelings and want to start dropping tons of slurs and epithets, knock yourself out.  Now I do have to warn you, a lot of people may not be as “tolerant” as Mayor Hogsett and local black Democrats so right after you knock yourself out, they might do the same.

But hey, if it’s good enough for a Deputy Mayor of Neighborhoods to use racially offensive language and there are no real consequences, why can’t the rest of us jump knee deep in the hoopla?

Good luck white people, godspeed and happy Black History Month.

*My apologies to film director Justin Simien.