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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.


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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.

 

Indiana Black Democrats Right to Demand Diversity

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

It’s the end of the world as we know it.  Not because Donald Trump is President or that Chicago Cubs won the World Series, but because I am in full agreement with the Indiana Legislative Black Caucus on an issue.

In the 13 years I have been covering Indiana politics it has a been a rare day when the ILBC and I agree on anything, but this one of them.  Indiana state Democrats have done a poor job with diversity at the top of their tickets and if they want to rebuild going forward, they need to fix it.

Since 2004, Democrats have only had one African-American running on the statewide ticket.   It was Vop Osili in 2010 who ran for Secretary of State.  Yes, Barack Obama was on the ticket in 2008 and 2012, but that’s he was running for President.  And even Indiana Democrats chose  Hillary Clinton in the 2008 May primary.   If you can find a black person running for a statewide office as a Democrat in 2016, 2014, 2012, 2008, 2006 or 2004, please let me know because I can’t find any.

Republicans have had two, Marvin Scott in 2004 who ran against Evan Bayh and Curtis Hill who won the Attorney General’s race.*   By the way, he got about 100,000 more votes than Trump and was the highest vote getter in state history. Both Obama and Hill have clearly demonstrated that blacks can win on a  statewide ticket, so why the Indiana Democratic party recruited more doesn’t make sense.

Blacks make up a significant portion of the Indiana Democratic Party so why the powers that be would not be working harder to get them on the ticket is enough to make you scratch your head.  I do not believe that in a state of 6.3 million people, over six elections, Democrats could not find an African-American qualified to run for Governor, Lt. Governor, State Treasurer, Auditor or Superintendent of Public Instruction.  And the only one capable of running for Secretary of State was Osili?  Seriously?

Now this is where someone will respond that Republicans don’t have all that great a track record on diversity, maybe not, but in this area,  one could argue that Republicans have done twice a good a job as Democrats getting blacks to run for statewide office than Democrats.  Of course, that would also be like being named valedictorian in summer school, but it beats being salutatorian.

If Indiana Democrats want to stage a comeback in this state, they should start by doing a lot more than paying lip service to diversity and do some real recruitment.  If they don’t, I’m sure the GOP will.   And when Republicans are running more statewide black candidates than Democrats, you know the apocalypse is right around the corner.

*That number would have likely been three had Dwayne Sawyer not resigned from the State Auditor position three months after being appointed by former Governor Mike Pence in August 2013.

 

Let’s Talk About Cuts

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

Indiana has $1 billion in annual road need.   The anti-tax crowd says don’t raises taxes, use existing budget dollars.  Ok, that’s fine, let’s see if we can take $1 billion out of the state budget.

According to State Budget Agency, Indiana spent $30 billion in fiscal year 2016.   Wow, that’s a lot of money, Abdul.  And $1 billion of that is only three percent, anyone can cut three percent of anything and do just fine.  Right?

Well, not really.  You have to breakdown that $30 billion because there’s some money you can use, and some money you can’t touch.

Out of that $30 billion, more than $12 billion is federal funding that goes to specific purposes so you can’t touch that.

So $30 billion – $12 billion = $18 billion.

Okay Abdul, we still have $18 billion to play with and $1 billion of $18 billion is five percent and you can still take five percent out of anything and survive just fine.

Not so fast!

Out of that $18 billion, you have to take out $3 billion in dedicated funds, these are dollars that must go to specific purposes because of they way they are raised, i.e. current gas taxes which go for the roads, environmental permit fees go to pay for the inspections. By the way, half that $3 billion goes to transportation.

So where are we now?

$18 billion – $3 billion = $15 billion.  Actually the number is $14,786,728,600.00, but who’s counting.*

Now let’s do some math.

$1 billion / $15 billion = 6% of the general operating fund.  So let’s start cutting that six percent and let’s do it across the board so it’s “fair”.

Education is the state’s biggest expenditure so let’s start there.  We spend about $9.7 billion on K-12 and higher ed, and six percent of that is $582,000,000 so schools, colleges and universities will take the biggest hit and we still have $418,000,000 to go.

Your next biggest expense is Health & Human Services (FSSA, Child Protective Services, drug treatment programs, etc.)  They come in at $3.1 billion and a six percent cut there would be $186,000,000.

$582,000,000 + $186,000,000 =  $768,000,000

So we we’ve cut money to schools, human services, programs help the truly needy and address  the heroin and opioid crisis in Indiana and we still have to find $232,000,000 to pay for roads. Don’t worry, we’ll get there.  I hope.

Your next biggest expenditure is public safety (State Police, Corrections, Homeland Security), that’s about $952,000,000 and six percent of that is $57,000,000, but what’s a few more rapists, murderers and child molesters running the streets, right?  Cutting six percent of general government functions (The Governor, Legislature, state agencies) gets you about $35,000,000.  Doing the same for disbursements, like those to local governments, gets you another $9.5 million.

So where are now?  $232,000,000 – $101,500,000  = $130,500,000.

We’re almost there, maybe

The next two items are the environment and economic development, they total about $164 million and a six percent cut there only gets you $9.8 million.

So we’re still short more than $120 million.

The only area left is the general funds in the transportation budget but it wouldn’t make any sense to cut six percent out of a budget that you’re going to put money back into.

So after cutting money to schools, public safety and services to the poor, children and disabilities, to pay for roads, we’re still short $120 million if we do across the board six percent cuts.

Hmm, maybe this isn’t as simple as some people would like for it to be.

*Using $14.7 billion as a starting number would actually mean 6.7% in cuts to general appropriations, I figured with as much heartburn six percent in cuts would do, there was no reason in making life worse for some of you.  And by the way, dipping into the nearly $2 billion reserves only pays for two years of road funding.

Giving the Mayor a Grade

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

As some of you know one of the jobs I have is I teach college and at the end of every semester my students get a grade.  Well, Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett has completed his  first full year in office and it’s time to give him a grade.

Now the way I decided to do this is to look at what the Mayor is most proud of with his accomplishments and take it from there.  And luckily for me, I got a recent copy of a political fundraising  e-mail he sent out to his fellow Democrats and other supporters which will make for the perfect starting point.

The Mayor touted four  programs in the e-mail…

  • Project Indy, a summer youth jobs program that employed 1,000 young people across the city.
  • Funding two new IMPD recruit classes and bringing back community based policing.
  • Ending the decades-long ban on streetlights and tearing down more abandoned homes than in the last two years.
  • Passing a budget that cut the city’s $50 million structural deficit in half and spent less than the last budget.

Not bad for the new Mayor, but to give him the right grade, we to take a look at a couple other items.

First, the budget.  The Mayor is right when he says the current budget spent less than the last.  Hogsett’s budget spent about $13 million less in this budget than the previous administration, $12.7 million to be exact.  However, this is where we need to throw a little perspective into the picture.  The city budget went from $1.103 billion to $1.091 billion, or a decrease of 1.15 percent.   That’s like my wife telling me instead of spending $110.30 on a new dress she spent $109.10.    I do agree you have to start somewhere, but I wouldn’t have tried to make too much of this point.

In addition, the “reduction” in the structural deficit ($55 million to $23.8 million) is also a little more involved upon closer inspection.   One could argue, and I have in the past, that part of that structural hole was plugged, in part, with $13 million in state funds as part of a one-time distribution of local option income taxes.   And the city reduced its contribution to its rainy day fund by about $17 million which one could also (and I did) argue helped close some of that shortfall.

Now let’s talk about public safety.

When it comes to public safety, the Mayor did find funding for two new recruit classes, but some of that is offset by retirements and other departures from the force.  By last count, the next two recruit classes will bring in about 86 new recruits, but the city expects 55 officers to leave the force, even though past history tends to show that number is above 60, at the end of the day there’s only a net increase of about 30 officers.  Luckily, IMPD will make an effort to make sure the number of  new hires is above 85.  But that unfortunately is overshadowed by the city’s record murder rate (149/150 depending on how you do the math).  The Mayor ran on a public safety platform and unfortunately on his watch the city has seen the largest number of murders in its history.

So when we take all this into account what grade does the Mayor get?

For now, it’s a B-/C+.  He gets credit for taking steps to add to the police force,  nearly 90 new street lights in badly needed neighborhoods,  focusing on mental health and drug addiction as part of the criminal justice strategy, summer jobs and street lights, putting a halt to the Council’s ill timed pay raise proposal,  but he loses points because of the record the murder rate and some of what could be labeled “ creative accounting” when it comes to budget.

However, the nice thing about all this is that when we do this again next year at this time, like my college students, I only expect the Mayor to improve.

My Top 10 of 2016

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

Well as tradition dictates, it’s time for me to do my  top 10 state and local stories of 2016.  Of course most of this occurs in the shadow of President-Elect Donald’s Trump’s victory, so with that said, here we go…

  1.    Voters Turn Down Our IPS’ BS.  – IPS reform advocates win three out four seats on the school board, keeping the district moving forward instead of putting it on a path  back to when officials were more concerned about hiring their family members than educating kids.
  1. Getting the Vapors – The fight over vaping regulations goes from the Statehouse to the FBI and back to the Statehouse as lawmakers get ready to change the rules back to something more reasonable, once again proving there’s nothing like the possibility of jail time to get folks on the straight and narrow.
  1. Massive Votes for Mass Transit – Not only did the referendum win 60-40 in Marion County, it carried 19 of the 25 Council districts and 79 percent of the precincts.  Of course it doesn’t help that funding for the Red Line is caught up in D.C. budget battles,  but hey, you take your wins where you can them and this one was pretty big.
  1. Road to Somewhere – Indiana lawmakers actually came up with responsible, long-term proposal to address the state’s road funding needs.  A mix of adjusted for inflation tax increases, tolling and bonding just might be what the state needs to address its more than $1 billion worth of road funding needs.  Now it’s time to step on the gas and get moving.
  1.  Murder by Numbers – Although he ran on public safety, Indy Mayor Joe Hogsett is the unfortunate winner of the most murders in Indianapolis history award.  Despite efforts to attack crime holistically, we still saw 146 murders in the city and there are two days to go as we  write this.
  1. King of the Hill – You gotta give it to Indiana Attorney General-Elect Curtis Hill.  He led the top of the ticket not only getting nearly 100,000 more votes than Donald Trump, but he was the highest votegetter in state history.  Some Democrats tried to say the only reason he did so well was because a lot of Hoosiers didn’t know he was black.  That’s funny, because some people said the opposite about Barack Obama in 2008 when he won Indiana.
  1. The Goodbye Girl – When Glenda Ritz beat Tony Bennett back in 2012, her staff was rumored to say they never saw it coming.   Fast forward four years and they ended up saying the same thing.
  1. Bayh, Bayh Evan  –  Who would have thought when Evan Bayh who walked into the U.S. Senate race with $9 million and a 21-point lead would end up losing by nearly 10-points to Todd Young?    Not a lot of people, but that’s the great thing about politics, no matter how long you practice it, you can still be pleasantly surprised.   And some of us will argue that no matter how excited Republican are that Bayh lost, there are probably even more Democrats  who are happy that he is now gone for good.  However, Bayh did get one consolation prize, he got more votes than Hillary Clinton.
  1. Run Eric, Run  – Eric Holcomb might be only politician in recent  Indiana history to run for three offices all in the same 12-month window.  He started out running for the U.S. Senate, got picked for Lt. Governor when Sue Ellspermann headed over to Ivy Tech and then stepped up when Mike Pence was picked to be Donald Trump’s running mate.  And while you can’t deny the Trump Tsunami, Holcomb was a good candidate who was surrounded by a good team and they did it all in about 100 days.  If only all campaigns were like this one.
  1. Mike Pence – The only other comeback this fascinating was the Chicago Cubs winning this year’s World Series.

 

 

Ask Not for Whom the Road Tolls

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

If Indiana wants to fully address its road funding problem, it is going to seriously have to include toll roads as part of that equation.

Right now, the state has about $1.1 billion worth of road funding needs.  There are numerous proposals on the table to help close that gap; an increase in the gas tax (adjusted for inflation), shifting all the sales tax revenue on gasoline to go towards road funding (however some key lawmakers aren’t crazy about that), using some sort of tracking measurement on vehicles so they would pay by the mile (tin foil hat wearers are now on high alert).   Unfortunately, that might not be enough and the state is looking at millions of unmet road needs.

So what’s the answer, or at least part of the answer?  Toll Roads.

Say what?  Yes, toll roads.  They address two major issues; they give you a stable source of long-term road funding revenue and it also captures out of state traffic and doesn’t put the bulk of the burden on the locals.  Allow me to elaborate.

First of all, a toll road is the ultimate user fee.  You don’t pay the toll unless you use the road. Indiana is the crossroads of America and within a day’s drive of 80 percent of the country; that’s a lot of people using the roads who aren’t necessarily helping pay for them.

Secondly, toll roads can provide a reliable long-term funding mechanism, because regardless of how many miles someone can get to the gallon or to the charge in their electric vehicle, they still have to use the roads.

Third, and some could argue most importantly, under current federal rules while you can toll for bridge improvements and the roads connected to them, a government can’t implement tolls until AFTER the work is done (take a look at recent bridge work on the Ohio River to see what I mean).  So yes, while you would be paying for a road, you can see what you’re paying for and that can go a long way at times to make people feel better.

Now exactly how the tolls would work in Indiana would remain to be seen because there are a lot of questions that need to be answered, such as where do you toll, how much do you toll, do you toll in urban areas like 465 in Indianapolis or 469 in Ft. Wayne, do you use an electronic toll pass or the old fashion crossing guard arm and do you toll at every entrance or exit ramp?  And what about the people who don’t want to pay a toll so they get off the interstate and clog up your state roads?

These are a lot of questions.  But when you look at the fact that not only does Indiana have more than $1 billion of unmet road needs; just to maintain what already exists is going to cost and extra $368 million over what’s being budgeted right now.  And if you want to finish what was started on I-69 and US 31, you’re going to need an additional $138 million.  Oh and what the heck, let’s throw in some future projects such as additional lanes on interstates and taking care of some state roads you may as well throw in at least another $470 million.

Does anyone seriously think this can be mitigated alone by gas taxes?  No, because no serious person would think that.   There are some estimates that if you literally tolled everything humanly possible that you could  in Indiana you could raise about $1.138 billion, or literally all of the state’s road needs, but that’s not practical.  Nor is raising the gas tax 26 cents per gallon because that is what you need to do to get that same amount of money.  At the end of the day, the responsible way to do this is with a mix of funding options and the use of tolls should be one of them.

And if you will allow me to paraphrase Ernest Hemingway, and you knew this was coming, ask not for whom the road tolls, it tolls for all of us.

Abdul-Hakim Shabazz is the editor and publisher of IndyPolitics.Org.