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A Deal of Necessity

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

A number of people have been asking me what I think about the deal reached between the Indiana Pacers and the Capital Improvement Board .   To be honest, I have mixed feelings.  Actually, let me be more than honest, I wish it wasn’t necessary.

I wish the City and CIB did not have to take over the operational costs of Bankers Life Fieldhouse for the next 10-13  years, as well as make structural improvements to the total tune of $160 million.  I wish the city got to keep the non-Pacers revenue generated at Bankers Life.

With all that said though, I think this probably the best deal under the circumstances.  It would be  easy to tell the Pacers to go pound sand and move to Seattle.  Unfortunately, that won’t do the local economy any good.

According to an analysis by the IU Public Policy Institute, we can expect the Pacers to generate about $470 million in economic activity over the 10-year period, which I will admit is not bad for a $160 million investment.  Also that $470 million in economic activity helps pay for the police, fire and infrastructure that is badly needed.  Most importantly, it helps pay off the bonds that financed Bankers Life.   An empty fieldhouse does no one any good.

Normally that ’should be enough to seal the deal, but it was my friends who are downtown merchants who are directly impacted by the Pacers.  One took a major hit in his bottom line during the NBA lockout.   Another, not so much, but when the Pacers play at home he sees the difference in his receipts to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars.   Those are the reasons I begrudgingly support this deal.

I wish Indy didn’t have to do it, but this is the universe we live in.  And I would rather live in a universe where it’s easier for my friends to make a living than one that isn’t.

The Smug Thug

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

Thursday I attended the arraignment of 16-year old Simeon Adams.  As you are aware, he’s been charged with the April 1 murder of Nathan Trapuzzano.  Since an arraignment is just a formal presentment of the charges being filed against an individual, I did not go expecting any news.   I wanted to see Adams’ demeanor.  I wanted to see the face of an individual who if f found guilty was going to spend the rest of his natural life behind bars.  I wanted to see if there was any remorse or contrition.   I didn’t.

Although I was not there for the infamous “perp walk” smile that he gave while being brought to the courtroom.  I was there to see his behaviour as he sat in the defendant’s chair.   The look I saw made we want to walk up to him and do the job some adult should have done a long time ago, kick his rear end.

Not only was he smug and dismissive.  But his attitude came across as the teenager who took your car without permission, lets his friends ride with him, they drink and smoke pot, get into an accident and wreck the car and then blame you for leaving the keys out.

To make matters worse, three of his other little “smug thug” friends were there to “show support”.  Note this  was 9 a.m., so you would have thought these guys would have been in school.  And the arraignment ended, when asked for a comment by the media the replies were “free Lil’ Red” (that was his street name) and “he didn’t do nothing” (that being a double negative means he did).  They chanted this a number of times.  You can hear them here along with another family member.

One of his friends by the way was named “Lil Blue”.

All I could think of that entire day was how my thought that some people just can’t be saved is unfortunately true.   However, I do take some comfort in the fact that if “Lil Red” ends up going to prison, his new nickname will probably end up being “Lil Wife”.

Use the Free Market to Raise the Minimum Wage

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

This may sound crazy, but how about we use the free market to raise the minimum wage instead of a government mandate?  I thought about this while watching the President give a speech recently in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Speaking at the University of Michigan, the President called on Congress to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.  The President says it would lift wages for 28 million Americans.

While I oppose government-mandated raises in the minimum wage, I do believe people should be paid well.  This is why when I shop; I tend to support places that pay higher wages.  So that means a big box store like Costco is more likely to get my business than Wal-Mart.  A downtown restaurant will always get my business over McDonald’s or Burger King.  And I am one of those people who have no issue with shelling out $3-$4 for a venti Pike’s Blend.

Now of course, because I choose to shop at places that pay higher wages, I also get the consequence of paying higher prices.  Which means in order for Starbucks to pay up to $13 an hour for someone to make me a tall cup of coffee with a double shot of expresso; they have to charge me more.  And I’m cool with that.  I demand a certain product done in a certain way and I am willing to pay for it.  I am using the free market to encourage companies and employers to pay higher wages.

And for all my friends who support raising the minimum wage, I suggest you do the same.  Instead of buying items on the cheap, start hitting the most expensive stores in town and purchase your everyday goods and services.  Spend $5 on a cup of coffee and $10 for a cheeseburger. In other words, practice what you preach to the rest of us.  And if enough if you do it, we could see wages rise in no time.

It’s one thing to run your mouth and call for increases in the minimum wage.  It’s another thing to put your money there.

Key Reforms Will Benefit Indy’s Communities

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

By State Sen. Jim Merritt (R-Indianapolis)

Indianapolis’ economy is growing. First-class employers are setting up shop here, providing well-paying jobs and attracting skilled professionals to the area. Our downtown community is vibrant and thriving – it was recently ranked one of the best in the nation.

But our city also faces challenges to its bright future. Violent crime rates are far too high, and some neighborhoods are still struggling to bounce back from the recent recession.

This legislative session, lawmakers tackled these tough issues to keep Indiana’s capital city moving forward. One of my primary focuses has been on deterring rising gun crime – a key obstacle for our community.

According to Mayor Greg Ballard’s Office, 82 percent of all homicides committed in Indianapolis in 2013 were shootings, and 42 percent of homicide suspects had a previous criminal weapons arrest.

I authored Senate Enrolled Act 169 this year to lengthen criminal sentences for violent gun offenders, sending a strong message that we will not tolerate gun violence in our backyards.

Once signed by the governor, the new law will allow for a sentence enhancement of between five and 20 years for violent offenders who use a firearm in the commission of a crime.

Too often, dangerous criminals are back on the streets after serving a very limited jail sentence. We’ve got to double down and make sure our criminal penalties match the heartless, destructive nature of these crimes. Pulling the trigger should trigger more time in jail.

This initiative was part of a large-scale push in recent years to reform Indiana’s criminal sentences, and address some of the root causes for our high crime rates.

In Indiana, 80 percent of offenders have some sort of mental illness, drug or alcohol addiction. House Enrolled Act 1268, which also passed the General Assembly this year, creates a fund to pay for mental health and addiction treatment of certain criminal offenders, so they can become rehabilitated instead of repeatedly cycling through the justice system.

I’m confident these reforms will make Indiana’s justice system more effective, and help stop the cycle of crime in our city.

The legislature also worked this session to address another key barrier to growth for Indianapolis: abandoned homes. In Marion County, an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 homes are abandoned, ranking Indianapolis among the top 20 metro areas with the highest number of vacant properties.

Abandoned properties invite vandalism and illegal drug use, reduce property values and hinder community growth in the long term.

I authored Senate Enrolled Act 422 this year to reduce the amount of time a purchaser at a tax sale must wait to take possession of a property. For vacant and abandoned homes, possession will now be immediate after a tax sale purchase.

Restructuring the way we handle property transactions will help turn these properties around quicker and rebuild our struggling neighborhoods.

I believe Indianapolis has a lot to gain from these new policies, but the work is certainly not over to secure the strongest future for our city. I welcome your feedback and ideas. Contact me by phone at 800-382-9467 or by email at Senator.Merritt@iga.in.gov.

 

Ethics & Conflicts of Interests

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

When Indiana lawmakers adjourned March 14, I wondered what I was going to write about next. And when I got news that Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma had requested an ethics investigation of fellow Republican State Rep. Eric Turner, the first thing that came to mind was “this is going to be interesting.”

To get you up to speed, Turner faces accusations of using undue influence in an effort to kill a bill that would have put a moratorium on new nursing homes in Indiana.  There was a big fight in the legislature this past session over whether Indiana had too many unfilled nursing home beds.  Moratorium supporters said “yes” and since the state foots the bill when it comes Medicaid funding they thought it would be a good idea to let things sit for a year or two.  Opponents argued the free market should take care of this problem.

Where Turner comes in is that his son, Zeke Turner, is the CEO of Mainstreet which, guess what, is in the nursing home business.  There have been a few news stories in which some of Turner’s fellow Republicans say while in caucus he really fought against the moratorium to the point where some of the members felt uncomfortable.  I did some checking on my own and some members tell me that, while Turner was a bit over the top at times, there already were concerns with the bill which led to its ultimate demise.

In a nutshell, the ethics rules say a member must recuse himself or herself from voting on something in which he or she has a financial interest.  They’re not so clear when it comes to family members, because Indiana has a part-time legislature. Fundamentally, they all potentially have conflicts of interests because they all have real jobs outside the Statehouse.

What makes the Turner situation so interesting is that all these discussions reportedly took place in caucus.  And the old rule is what happens in caucus, stays in caucus.  A caucus, for those of you who don’t know, is when members gather behind closed doors and hammer out most of their disagreements.  The point is that in caucus everyone can speak freely without worrying about their words showing up in my political gossip column.

So if there’s a ethics hearing, the big issue will be how do lawmakers investigate the issue without breaking that number one caucus rule; made all the more difficult by the fact the ethics committee hearing will be public.  I don’t envy committee chairman Greg Steuerwald of Avon.  Not only does he have to figure out how to make all this work procedurally, but there’s also an issue of who does he call as a witness?  Because, guess what, if you were a member who was in the House Republican caucus at the time, you’re potentially a witness.  And that could include not only Steuerwald, but Rep. Kathy Richardson and Rep. Eric Koch, who are also on the committee.

And while we’re at it, what about the Democrats are on the Committee? How much of the GOP’s private discussions and dirty laundry would they like to see made public?  Not that anyone would use the process to play politics, but let’s face it, this is politics.  And after House Joint Resolution 3, the marriage amendment and legislation that would have allowed religious discrimination by some employers, Turner has not necessarily been the most popular person this session.

So what should you take away from all this?  This simple fact, this is going to complicated and not as cut and dry as anyone thinks. And I now have something to write about this summer.

That’s a Session

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

Indiana lawmakers wrapped up the 2014 Legislative Session finalizing and voting on a number of issues including early childhood education, mass transit for Indianapolis, road funding and the business personal property tax repeal.  The following is list of the major bills lawmakers passed on the last day of session and are now on their way to the Governor’s desk…

Business Personal Property Tax

  • A county can choose to eliminate the tax on all new personal property.
  • Gives local governments several options to offer “super abatements” for businesses which means a local unit can offer an extended personal property tax abatement for up to 20 years.
  • A county can choose to exempt all businesses with less than $20,000 in personal property.
  • It would continue to lower the state’s corporate income tax to 4.9% over six years.
  • It would create a study commission to look at Indiana’s overall tax structure.

Pre-K Vouchers

  • Compromise on pre-K pilot voucher program says $10 million total. 10-50% from outside sources. Vouchers amounts from $2,500 – $6,800 per child.  Up to 4,500 children could benefit.
  • It would take place in 5 counties.
  • To be eligible a family of four could not make more than $30,000.
  • A commission studying the impact of pre-K would also be created.

Mass Transit

  • No light rail or corporate income tax in final mass transit deal. Also 10% of mass transit dollars can’t come from fares or local sources.
  • A 501(C)(3) would be created allowing businesses to get a tax break for donating to mass transit.  Other charitable foundations could also make donations.

Road Funding

  • $400 million would be allocated to the old Major Moves road fund from the general transportation fund.  $200 million would be transferred in the first year.  The second $200 million would be transferred only after a review by the State Budget committee.

Criminal Justice Reform

  • Changing the felony classification system from four to six levels, creating better proportionality in criminal sentencing.
  • Creating more certain sentences for offenders by reducing credit time.
  • Giving judges and prosecutors more discretion to sanction low-level offenders in local programs instead of sending them to prison.
  • Allowing the Department of Correction to transfer funds to local probation and community corrections programs if the sentencing reforms lead to a shift from state prisons to local programs.

The Governor and four legislative leaders will hold news conferences tomorrow giving their assessment of the 2014 session.

Fall Into the GAP

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

Somewhere in a box I have a GAP store credit card.  I haven’t used it in years.  However, I just might have to go look for it.  You see the GAP has raised the minimum wage for its employees to $10 an hour.

I know what you are thinking, “Abdul, you are not a fan of increasing the minimum wage.”  No, I am not a fan of government mandated increases in the minimum wage.   What the GAP did is what I believe in, private sector employers making the decision to increase the wages of their employees.

It’s one thing to increase the minimum wage in a booming economy, but in an economy like ours, such mandates are just asking for trouble.

We have already seen the Congressional Budget Office report that has said raising the minimum wage would cost 500,000 jobs and hurt the very people that progressives allegedly are trying to help.

If an employer can figure out a way to pay his or her employees more without hurting the bottom then they should be applauded.  However, that increase in hourly wages will have to come from somewhere.  So the GAP has decided it will either raise its prices, cut back hours or scale back profits for its shareholders.  Regardless, it is the GAP’s decision to make and not one that should be forced on it by the government.

Regardless, I have to give the GAP credit for taking the initiative, now I have to go figure out where I put that card.  It’s probably in the same place where I keep my Starbucks gift cards.

 

Legislative “To Do” List

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

Now that the 362-kilogram gorilla in the room known as the marriage amendment  has moved on, we can now turn our attention to issues that actually matter.

And believe me, there are still quite a few of them to work out and there’s less than 30 days to go in this session.

Lawmakers still have to figure out what to do with the reduction/elimination of the business personal property tax.  Governor Mike Pence says he supports giving replacement revenue to local governments if they lose it under the Senate plan, however Senators are expressing no desire to pony up the cash.

Someone needs to make a decision as to whether there will be any dollars for early childhood education vouchers for low-income families.

A law authorizing a referendum for mass transit in Central Indiana needs to be passed.

Someone has to do something about whether the state will stay with Common Core or adopt higher standards that won’t compromise Hoosier kids’ abilities to succeed when it comes to the ACT and SAT.

There’s a criminal code that still needs to be reformed and money to be found for community corrections.

We have to figure out if drug testing for welfare recipients is a good idea as well as limit the types of food folks on government assistance can buy with our tax dollars.

And those are just a handful.  There are quite a few other issues out there.

 To be fair, lawmakers have been dealing with them, it’s just that HJR-3 has gotten all the attention.   Luckily now that it won’t see the light of day until next session, and I doubt it will see it even then, items that actually improve the lives of Hoosiers can take center stage.

Just In Time for Valentine’s Day

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

I have to give it to Indiana lawmakers.  Just when I think they are about to do something that is not only silly, but politically short-sighted, they pull themselves back from the brink, in this case it was the marriage amendment.

You know what I mean.

The amendment originally stated “Only a marriage between one (1) man and one (1) woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Indiana. A legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized.”

The House voted to remove the second sentence and the Senate decided not to change it back.   By making the change and sticking with it, HJR-3 won’t appear on the ballot at the earliest until 2016, if it does at all.  There’s talk some supporters will try to defeat it in the Senate Monday since the they feel it has been too watered down.  I should only be so lucky.

By punting this issue, which by the way is not the first time, they did it about a little over a year ago, we can now truly focus on things that matter.

State revenues are coming up short again, so that will have a serious impact on Indiana’s financial health.   Officials are trying to figure out what to do about the possible reduction/elimination of the business personal property tax and minimize the impact on local governments.  Early childhood education and the skills gap are always major concerns. Mass transit is an issue.  We need to continue to reform the criminal code.  We have to figure out a long-term solution on how to pay for roads with less revenue coming from gas taxes as we drive more fuel efficient cars. And Sunday alcohol sales would be nice too.

Okay, I had to throw that one in.

This is not to say these issues aren’t being addressed, but let’s face, HJR-3 was the 362-kilogram gorilla in the room that was sucking up all the oxygen; which is really annoying for an issue that wasn’t supposed to a priority.

And now that lawmakers have clearly demonstrated it isn’t, no matter which side of HJR-3 you were on, we can address these issues and all work together to make Indiana a better place.

And that’s a Valentine’s Day gift that is almost as good as a box of Davidoff cigars, almost.

 

 

Social Conservatives Fall Short

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

Earlier this year the folks who supported HJR-3, the marriage amendment, were livid at the fact that House lawmakers were looking at eliminating the second sentence.   They were so upset that the in several e-mails and public statements they threatened to primary any Republican who voted to alter the amendment.

On January 27, 23 House Republicans voted to remove the second sentence from HJR-3 and another 11 voted against it altogether on the final vote.  Why does that matter?   Well, the primary filing deadline was last Friday.  The rest requires a little bit of math.

There are 82 House Districts with a Republican running in the May primary, out of those 82 only 14 are contested.   Out of the 14 contested races, five are to fill an open seat, so that takes us down to nine.  And out of those nine where incumbents have a challenger only three of them voted to remove the second sentence from HJR-3, Jerry Torr of Carmel, Rebecca Kubacki (Kosciusko and Elkhart Counties) and Kathy Heuer (Allen and Whitley Counties).

Now you have to look at when the challengers filed;  Kubacki’s opponent filed on January 21,  Torr’s opponent filed a primary challenge on February 3,  and Heuer’s opponents filed on February 6 and 7, virtually at the last minute.

Ok Abdul, where this is going?  Give me a second.

It’s no big secret that Advance America and the Indiana Family Institute actively recruited and encouraged their members to file in primaries against House Republicans who wouldn’t vote for HJR 3.  I think I have a couple of e-mails to that effect.   And after all that trouble, at best you could argue they only found three people to run and two of them are running against each other.

Even organized labor found six “Lunch Pail” Republicans to run in 2012 because of right to work.  I would label these guys paper tigers, but that would be an insult to paper tigers.

And to add more insult to injury, two supporters of HJR-3 actually have primary challengers, author Eric Turner and Elections Committee Chairman Milo Smith. However, in all fairness to Turner, his opponent has told the media HJR-3 wasn’t the reason he was challenging him.

So after all the threats, posturing, weeping and gnashing of teeth, the best HJR-3 supporters could come up with is three primary opponents against 23 Republican lawmakers, two of which are running against each other.

Maybe it’s time to just let this one go and move on to other issues that actually matter.