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Indiana’s “Income” Issue

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

We spend a lot of time talking about stagnant wages here in Indiana.   And while this may sound cruel, the individuals most responsible for this are the ones with either no skill set or they let they let skill set fall by the wayside.

Allow me to explain.  According to the most recent state revenue forecast Indiana is expected to fall short of about $156 million over the next few years in income tax collections, much of that is attributed to “wage growth uncertainty” despite gains in employment.  In English that means the jobs are being created, however the wages aren’t necessarily rising as a whole.

Instinctively, that would lead you to believe that while jobs are being created, they aren’t the “good paying jobs” that people need to make a living.  That’s not entirely true, in fact, the opposite tends to be true.  The “good paying jobs” are being created, the problem is finding the people to fill them.

Allow me to explain, over the last couple years, Indiana has gained about 100,000 jobs.  More than half of them pay above the average weekly wage of $813  (that’s a little more than $42,000 annually). Now get this, the largest growth sector has been in manufacturing, which pays on average $1,095 a week, nearly $57,000 annually.  That’s not a bad bit of change.  Throw in your spouse who works and you can have a comfortable lifestyle because Indiana is not that expensive a place to live. CNBC rated the state as the sixth cheapest in the nation.

Now let’s compare that to some other numbers, while Indiana has a high school completion rate of nearly 90 percent only 35 percent of Hoosiers between 25 and 64 had at least an associate’s degree.  That’s a pretty big drop off.  And even when we get people enrolled in higher education, there is still a completion issue.  Only 30 percent finish within four years and  50 percent finish within six years.

You see where this is going.  The facts are pretty clear, the more education and training you have, the more likely your income will rise.  Now this is where someone will some point out a very successful person who did not have any post-secondary education.  However I think we can all agree that for every exception, there are millions of people who are the rule.  And I can assure the ones who did well without a formal education aren’t hiring high school dropouts to manage their finances.

The state is doing its part to expand career readiness.  Whether it is reworking school curriculum to make students more college and career ready, programs through Ivy Tech (full disclosure, I teach there) or the free training programs through the Department of Workforce Development there are numerous opportunities for individuals to improve their lot in this world.  Unfortunately, not enough people are taking advantage of it.  If they were, maybe there wouldn’t be more than one million Hoosiers on some form of government assistance.

Delaying justice complex without cause is an injustice for taxpayers

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

by Greg Ballard

It is often said that justice delayed is justice denied. The same could prove true about the Marion County Justice Complex project, which is now in the hands of the City-County Council.

During my administration, we have established a tremendous track record of working with the Council to tackle big projects that have been kicked down the road for 20 or 30 years. In doing so, we have stripped undue political influence out of the most basic city services, and we have protected taxpayers for decades to come.

Our water and wastewater systems were highly politicized and broken. We took on the challenge, first by renegotiating the city’s existing EPA Consent Decree, saving ratepayers more than $800 million and carrying out one of the city’s most important environmental projects.

We subsequently transferred water and wastewater assets for $1.9 billion to Citizens Energy Group – a move that is saving ratepayers millions annually beyond original projections and has provided record-levels of investment in infrastructure through RebuildIndy. Prior to RebuildIndy, the city repaired on-average one or two bridges annually. During a 2 ½ year period, RebuidIndy resulted in repair work on 60 bridges, road resurfacing throughout all parts of the city, sidewalk repair, and construction of new trails and bike lanes. This investment in neighborhoods combined with new mobility and connectivity options are drawing millennials and seniors into the city at a rate not seen in decades.

Parking meters were another broken, highly politicized system. Together, with the Council, we took on this challenge and created ParkIndy – a P3 partnership that has grown Indy’s parking meter revenue from $330,000 in 2010 to $3.3 million in 2014. And unlike other cities that opted to fix their parking systems by negotiating an up-front, one-time payment, Indianapolis created a revenue stream for future councils and mayoral administrations to direct.

We have proven that we know how to take on big challenges and address them in a way that results in enormous savings and efficiencies. The Justice Center is the next big fix, and after more than two years of work based on firm commitments from all of the project’s stakeholders, now is the time to get this deal done so that future mayors, future councils and future generations of residents are not burdened with it.

Some have suggested that this project should be delayed until after the coming mayoral election, but calls to put this project back in the political arena at this point indicate a willingness to sacrifice the city’s long-term financial health and public safety in exchange for short-term political gain. Make no mistake: delaying this project likely will kill it. If it somehow survives, the same project will cost hundreds of millions of dollars more and be full of political patronage.

We approached this project from day one in a genuine spirit of partnership with our stakeholders – the Sheriff, Courts, Council, Prosecutor and Public Defender. We all agreed, and we signed an MOU affirming our commitment to move forward. Together, we engaged in a competitive bid process. Together, we selected a winning bid team. Twice, all of the project stakeholders unanimously agreed to move forward in this direction, with this bid, using this P3 delivery model. The project has been public, open, transparent, and collaborative, and stakeholders have been engaged throughout the project, with more than 240 briefings and public meetings.

Why would we invest so much time and energy in one project? Because our current system is inherently unsafe. For more than 30 years, Indianapolis has needed a new jail and space for our courts. Inefficient, failing facilities threaten our public safety and carry a hefty annual operating price tag of more than $50 million – a number that will only rise in coming years with inflation and continued deterioration of physical assets. After decades of controversy that have included Federal court oversight and hundreds of millions spent on the court and jail systems, a comprehensive solution to our justice system’s inadequacies is within our vision and our grasp. After two years of study by all stakeholders and a yearlong competitive procurement process, we have a hard, committed bid in place to fix these ills. And as the City-County Council debates the proposed Justice Complex, taxpayers should demand that all political baggage be checked at the door.

Those who have tracked the Justice Center since its inception know that procedural delays have already blocked taxpayers from receiving at least $1.5 million in annual savings for the life of the project because of lower interest rates. In total, that’s $52.5 million we could have used to help fund IMPD officers or Pre-K education for low-income children. Doing nothing carries an even higher price tag. Operations costs will begin to accelerate in 2016 due to critical Jail I repairs, and that trajectory will saddle taxpayers with as much as $860 million in annual expenditures by 2050. Backing away from the bid now also places the reputation of the city at risk. At a time when P3s are becoming widely accepted as the way to address legacy infrastructure problems, the Justice Center project has drawn international attention. Who, in the future, will want to work with a city that walks away from a high-quality, committed bid?

By all means, the Council should ask tough questions and verify the financial calculations. But those advocating delay should bear the burden of proof to show that they have an alternative plan, and that they can deliver. It is an injustice to taxpayers to delay for the sake of politics.

Gregory A. Ballard, Mayor
City of Indianapolis

Common Ground on Common Construction Wage

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

For the most part this legislative session, I’ve been pretty agnostic on the issue of repealing Indiana’s Common Construction Wage (CCW) law.

For those of you who don’t know what that is, it’s a law that allows local governments to set prevailing wages on public construction projects.  It’s been around since the early part of the last century.  Opponents say it increases the price of public projects by as much as 20-25%.   Supporters say it guarantees fair wages and quality assurance on public projects.

I have friends on both sides of the issue and both can make compelling cases for their positions, which is why I think the solution literally does lie somewhere in the middle.  Allow me to offer it.

The free market capitalist in me says lawmakers should move forward with repealing the CCW, but give local governments a lot more flexibility in the bidding process, preferably the same flexibility the private sector has.   A free market only works when both the buyer and seller can take advantage of it.

Right now under current law, if my memory serves me correctly, local governments must accept the lowest, responsive bid, which means the lowest bidder who can post a bond gets the work.  I argue, change that to the lowest, responsible bidder. That way, we can balance fiscal prudence with quality work.

We’ve all heard stories about someone who tried to do something on the cheap and all it did was end up costing more money in long haul.  There’s no reason taxpayers should have to suffer through that either.  They also shouldn’t have to suffer with increased costs of public projects.

This is why I think as lawmakers go forward with figuring out what to do with CCW, they might want to look at my suggestions.

 There is common ground, the question is will either side be willing to head in that direction.

Capitalism, What a Beautiful Choice

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

 

You know what the big takeaway was from this week’s past controversy over the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA)?

No, it wasn’t the adage “it’s not what it is, it’s what it looks like.”  Nor was it “be careful what you pray for, you just might get it.”  No, the big lesson from this week’s RFRA controversy was that “money talks and b********* walks.”  (My uncle taught me that.)

To translate that into something less urban that basically means that when you want to get somebody’s attention, start messing with their money.  Or to put it in a more positive light,  capitalism can be the cure for what ails us.

There were examples of this all over Indianapolis, Gen Con, Angie’s List, SalesForce, the NCAA; a lot of big names were expressing their concerns over what they thought the potential discriminatory impact of RFRA could be. I know, this is where you say RFRA didn’t allow for discrimination and this is where I remind you of my first adage.   Enough people made enough noise about what they  would do with their money if something wasn’t done about RFRA,  lawmakers heard the message loud and clear and started down the road of fixing the problem.

And it wasn’t just the RFRA opponents who took advantage of capitalism.   Remember the story about the pizza place in Walkerton, IN whose owner said they would not cater a gay wedding because it violated their religious beliefs.  (Granted I don’t know any self-respecting couple, gay or straight that would do that, but I digress).   Well a bunch of people got mad and the owners had to close the place down.  Then a bunch of people got mad at the bunch of people who got mad at the pizzeria and started a GoFund Me campaign, and as I write this post, they’ve raised $800,000 for the owners.  Once again folks, the magic of capitalism.

Now does this mean we can scrape all anti-discrimination laws, of course not.  And I don’t have a problem adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s civil rights code.   But if there’s one thing this experience should have taught us, when you can talk crazy all you want, but when you start, as my Uncle used to say, “messing with other folks’ money, it’s about to get deep and it’s about to get real.”

Be Careful What You Pray For

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

How’s this for irony?  By the end of the week Indiana lawmakers make actually enshrine in law some legal protections for Hoosiers based on sexual orientation and gender identity.  And the people most responsible for this are the ones who have fought it the hardest.

The biggest advocates of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) have been religious conservatives who, contrary to what they say about the Hobby Lobby case, have been trying for years to turn their faith into statute and for years did a pretty good job of getting away with it, until they lost two major battles last year.

The lost the fight over the marriage amendment and the courts legalized same-sex marriage.  And because of that, here we are today with Indiana in the economic fight of its life because these guys want to push RFRA through.

And when some of them say this isn’t about discrimination, but protecting religious liberty, I just use their own words, no make that I use Eric Miller of Advance America’s words…

“Churches, Christian businesses and individuals deserve protection from those who support homosexual marriages and those who support government recognition and approval of gender identity (men who dress as women).  (RFRA) will help provide the protection!”

Had these guys not pushed this issue this session it would have never gotten through the Legislature, the Governor would not have signed it, there would not have been the public uproar, there would not have been serious damage control and there, probably by the end of the week, be new legal protections for LGBT Hoosiers.

And the more extreme elements of the  pro-RFRA crowd are responsible.  My grandmother used always say be mindful of what you ask the good Lord for, because you may not get it your way, but his way, and you might not like it.

“Consequences and RFRA-Cussions”

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

Since last week, every time I got ready to write about the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) something happened; the weekend rally, the Governor’s appearance on This Week with George Stephanopoulos, the creation of a Cannabis Church in Indiana, you name it.   So when the dust settled this afternoon, I finally figured out what to write; offer some advice to my Republican friends on how to fix this disaster.

Now I know there are quite of few of them who don’t think they did anything wrong. I heard it all weekend,  RFRA is about religious freedom, not discrimination.  It’s in effect in nearly 30 other states in one form or another, even though they didn’t do it following on the heels of two big fights over same-sex marriage. .   The media (more national and social) has blown this all out of proportion.  I get it guys.  I really do.  I honestly don’t think (despite what some RFRA supporters secretly wish) RFRA is a vehicle for discrimination.  It simply outlines a test for when government rules and religious liberty clash.  I really do get it.   And guess what, none of that matters.  It doesn’t.  Stop shaking your head, it doesn’t matter.  Listen to me, it doesn’t matter.

There’s an old saying in politics, it ain’t what it is, it’s what it looks like.  Or to put it another way, when your wife is mad at you for something she thinks you did or forgot to do, whether you did or didn’t do it doesn’t matter. She’s mad and you need to fix it.  It’s just that simple.   RFRA pretty much flew under the radar until it passed the House and was signed by the Governor.  That’s when social media exploded, the allegations of discrimination started flying and most people started paying attention.

Is that unfair?  Yup!  Now man up and deal with it.   I know some of you don’t want to, but look at it this way.

When major companies call for boycotts of Indiana, nearly 3,000 people show up at the Statehouse on a chilly Saturday afternoon to protest and Governor Mike Pence has to go on national TV to try to explain the law doesn’t allow for discrimination but won’t clearly state that he opposes discrimination based on sexual orientation, you have a problem.  If this were 2016, we would be talking a crisis of “Richard Mourdock” proportion.

Luckily, this can be fixed.  And quite simply, too.  I know a lot of Republicans aren’t quite ready to add sexual orientation as a protected class here in Indiana, although I would argue you should.  But the next best thing is a simple sentence in the code that says RFRA cannot be used as a defense against a state, federal or local anti-discrimination law.    You do that and you go a long way to mitigating your problem.  And since many of you have already stated RFRA doesn’t promote discrimination, you have nothing to lose by writing that down.

You had one chance to do this during the amendment process and took a pass.  I think this might be God’s way of giving you guys a second chance to avoid political armageddon when Judgment Day gets here next year.  You call it Election Day.

Now I know this may not make some people happy and some of you want to stand on principle.  Well, here’s another principle to think about.  Think about all the sales tax revenue you will lose if companies and tourism really do start leaving Indiana.  Who pays for your schools?  Who pays for your services?  Who pays for the bonds on Lucas Oil Stadium and the Convention Center?

Yeah, ponder that.   And then think long and hard about how you got here and never do it again.  And by the way, it doesn’t matter whether you like it.  That’s immaterial.  We’re talking Indiana’s fiscal health here.  That’s why  it doesn’t matter what the law actually says, it’s what people think it means.

Now go fix it.

Satanic Temple Sues Franklin County

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

I got this via e-mail last night.  I think it’s ironic seeing how lawmakers are moving forward with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).  And why do I get the strange feeling there’s more where this is coming from.

******

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed a joint lawsuit on behalf of the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) and The Satanic Temple (TST) against Franklin County following the county’s rejection of applications from both organizations requesting permission to erect public displays on the county courthouse lawn.

The FFRF is a nationwide non-profit organization “devoted to protecting the constitutional principle of the separation of church and state,” and The Satanic Temple is an “international religious organization,” the filing states. The grounds on which the displays were requested for display are described by a local ordinance (No. 2015-02) as “a forum to promote understanding of issues of public concern and to foster respect for the rights of all.” The ordinance also explains, “Public use of the courthouse grounds includes, but is not limited to, activities sponsored by county departments; celebrations; community events; cultural, educational, and historical activities, displays, demonstrations, exhibits, marches, rallies, press conferences, speeches, and vigils related to government or public issues; memorial services, performances, wedding ceremonies, and other expressive activities.”

In February of 2015, TST applied to erect a display from Nov. 29 through January 06, 2015. While the exact details of the display are not specified, TST revealed that it would be a lit display measuring up to 19 ½ feet in height. FFRF applied to place a display highlighting the importance of the Bill of Rights within the same period of time. Both were rejected on the grounds that neither TST nor FFRF are residents of Franklin County. The ACLU contends that the requirement for local applications is a violation of the First Amendment and represents both organizations in a joint filing. According to the suit, “The requirement of the Ordinance that persons wishing to use the Courthouse lawn be residents of the County is not narrowly tailored to advance an important government interest, nor is it reasonably related to a legitimate government interest.”

The Satanic Temple generated controversy during the past holiday season when it erected displays in public forums in both Michigan and Florida. The organization is best known for its current efforts to erect a Satanic monument next to a 10 Commandments monument currently standing on the grounds of the Oklahoma State Capitol building.

About The Satanic Temple
The mission of The Satanic Temple is to encourage benevolence and empathy among all people, reject tyrannical authority, advocate practical common sense and justice, and be directed by the human conscience to undertake noble pursuits guided by the individual will. Civic-minded, The Satanic Temple has been involved in a number of good works including taking a stand against the controversial and extremist Westboro Baptist Church. For more information about The Satanic Temple, please visit http://www.thesatanictemple.com/.

Praise the Lord and Pass the Grass

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

I have two distinct personality traits.  I don’t smoke marijuana because it dulls my hatred of people and I have never been a very deeply religious person.  My philosophy is that I believe in God and believes in me and that’s about it.  However, with lawmakers set to pass the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) I think I am about change my ways.

Under RFRA, before the government could force or prohibit me from doing something that might violate my religious beliefs they have to articulate a compelling reason.   And I can argue there’s no compelling reason for the State of Indiana to prohibit me from using pot as part of my religious practices.

Grab some mary jane and Doritos and allow me to explain.

First of all, marijuana consumption is part of numerous faith traditions.   Rastafarians are known for their cannabis use.  If you’re a member of the Ethiopian Zion Coptic Church you can light up.  And you might want to attend a future service of the Free Marijuana Church of Honolulu, The Free Life Ministry Church of Canthe and my personal favorite, the federally tax-exempt inFormer Ministry Collective of Palms Springs, CA.

So now that we have the religion established, now we need the government rule. We know marijuana is illegal in Indiana, but there’s no compelling interest for it to be, especially when it comes to religious practices.  About 19 states and the District of Columbia have decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana.  Nearly two dozen states have decriminalized marijuana for medical purposes.  Four states have legalized it altogether.  And there’s a bipartisan effort to reclassify it as a Schedule II drug, which means it has medical benefits.   And if I can use pot to help heal my body, why can’t I use it to help heal my soul?

So with that said, what “compelling interest” would the state of Indiana have to prohibit me from using marijuana as part of my religious practice?   I would argue marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol and wine used in religious ceremonies.   Marijuana isn’t anymore “addictive” than alcohol and wine is used in some religious ceremonies.  And marijuana isn’t anymore of a “gateway” drug than the wine used in a religious ceremony will make you go out any buy hard liquor.  (At least not on Sunday.)

So frankly, I’m looking forward to the passage of RFRA.   Not because I want to change faith and smoke pot, but because I want a front row seat at the trial that we all know is going to happen when all this goes down.

Praise the Lord and pass the grass!

Time to Withhold Wihholdings

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

I have never been more convinced in my entire life that if you want to reform the government and get spending under control, we need to get rid of withholdings when it comes to taxes.

Allow me to explain.

This past weekend I went back home to Illinois to visit my accountant.  I’ve had the same guy for 12 years because I believe a good accountant is like a good mechanic or barber, once you get one you never let him go.

Well after sitting down and getting the taxes done he told me that my wife and I owed Uncle Sam several thousand dollars and some change.  My wife and I are independent contractors and have tons of 1099s so naturally we will owe money.   Luckily, whenever I paid for what I do I withhold about 30% so we’re covered at the state and federal level.   That didn’t make the Lovely Mrs. Shabazz feel better because all she did was complain about having to pay the government and what they spend her money on.

That’s when I got the idea to write this blog post.  If we want more people to pay attention to their government, maybe we should get rid of withholding altogether and they would have to pay their taxes when they file.

I understand that withholding makes it easier for the federal government to collect taxes, but as I remember reading it also makes it easier for the taxpayer to not truly aware of what they owe and what the government spends.  And it also makes it easier to raise taxes.  You can’t miss what you don’t see, right?

Just imagine what your life would be like if you didn’t have your taxes withheld and instead had to write a check.   Or better, yet, just imagine what life would be like if everyone had to write a check on April 15 and pay up.  I honestly think we would have a better country because people would pay more attention to what the government does and we would hold elected officials accountable.  Or at the very least we could start to have a grown up discussion about what our spending priorities should be.

Who’s with me on this one?  And while we’re at it, why not move Election Day to April 16?

When Bad Kids Get Worse

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

Pardon my French, but some kids just need a good old fashion  ass kickin’!   I have always believed that when there are no consequences to your actions you get out of control and then society has to step in and take over.

I believed that was true in the case of Shamus Patton, Simeon Adams the kids who who caused the January fight in  Castleton Square Mall and now a girl who has identified herself on the Internet as “Nook Babiee”.

If you are wondering what she did to make my list of out of control young people, watch this video clip and then come back, I’ll still be here.

[CLICK HERE AND COME BACK IN A COUPLE MINUTES]

See what I mean.  Were you as shocked as I was not only that she attacked the other girl, but also beat her 6-year old little brother?   The father of the girl who was attacked spoke to RTV 6 and says he plans to go forward with pressing charges.

But here’s what’s really sad, if I have matched things up correctly, this isn’t the first time “Nook” has been out of control.  The nice thing about social media is these guys like to document their behavior, like this one at a Dollar Tree.

Somewhere along the line someone dropped the ball and didn’t parent.  Although I am willing to bet the “parent” probably isn’t much older than Nook.

But it would be nice if people would discipline their children so they would know there would be consequences to their actions.  For some kids all that takes is a stern look or a lecture, for others, they need to be smacked upside the head.  Regardless, I really wish someone would have done their job, or at the very least have used some birth control because now we as a society have to deal with the consequences of their actions.