Midwest Memo: Gas Fuels Manufacturing Jobs, Preschool Gets Cut And Blagojevich’s Fiscal Legacy

Gassed up The New York Times reports that the boom in natural gas in the United States could lead to a ‘Manufacturing Renaissance’ in the country. The natural gas expansion is due mainly to the new, controversial drilling process known as hydraulic fracturing, or “tracking.”

Preschool not a priority Ohio saw a big drop in public preschool enrollment over the past decade, and no other state cut more money from its preschool program during that time, according to the Columbus Dispatch. The numbers come from a report by the National Institute for Early Education Research. The report also has some negative news for Indiana and Illinois.

Still feeling it Forbes takes a look at the Rod Blagojevich legacy on fiscal issues in Ilinois, and tells the story of how the former governor could be to blame for a proposed rate hike from the Chicago Transit Authority.

Arsenal of research The U.S. Army is opening a new $60 million lab in the Detroit suburb of Warren. WDIV TV takes a tour of the new facility.

Nom nom nom Wisconsin will get three new cheese plants.

Midwest Memo: Illinois’ ‘Basket Case,’ Right To Work Challenge And A Shortage Of Asparagus Workers

Pension problems Bloomberg News reports that Illinois’ pension system is a “basket case.” The state’s teacher pension system is only 47 percent funded, the lowest number of any similar system in the country.

Right to sue The Associated Press looks into a court challenge against Indiana’s Right to Work law, passed earlier this year. Among other things, the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 argue that the law deprives them of free speech rights, since it forces them to represent members who do not pay dues, and that money would be used to support their political speech.

Raising casinos, raising taxes A ballot proposal in Michigan to allow eight more casinos in the state would also raise taxes on Detroit’s three existing casinos, according to Mlive.

Want to pick asparagus? Asparagus season has come early in Michigan, and farmers are desperate to find workers to pick this year’s crop. Partner station Michigan Radio reports there will be a job fair on Thursday to try to fill 220 jobs.

Midwest Memo: Fixes For The L, Strapped Schools In Indiana And Selling The State Fairgrounds

Loop repairs The Loop’s elevated rail in Chicago will get $39 million worth of repairs starting in April. The Chicago Tribune reports about half of the total track on The Loop will be replaced.

Property tax problem A cap on property taxes in Indiana is leaving some schools strapped for cash, even in well off communities. The AP reports towns that managed to attract business and industry are doing well.

Fracking lobbyists The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that the state’s booming oil and gas industry is turning into a lobbying powerhouse in Columbus.

Fairgrounds for sale Partner station Michigan Radio reports Governor Rick Snyder is expected to sign legislation today that would allow the sale of the Michigan State Fairgrounds. The state fair ended its annual run in 2009 because of a lack of funds.

How to turn around a neighborhood Partner station WBEZ reports Chicago has received $169 million to help neighborhoods struggling with foreclosures, but turning those neighborhoods around has been more difficult than expected.

Midwest Memo: Detroit Assembles A Team, Indiana’s Accounting Errors And Chicago’s Tourism Offices

Detroit looking for accountants Detroit has a deal to avoid state takeover. Now, the Detroit Free Press reports leaders have to pick the members of the new panel that will oversee the city’s finances.

Whoopsie An error by the state of Indiana shortchanged county governments by $206 billion over the last year, according to the Indianapolis Star. The paper says it’s the second budget error announced by the state in the last four months. The two mistakes amount to half a billion dollars in accounting miscalculations.

Poised to strike Partner station WBEZ reports teachers at more than 150 Chicago schools are ready to go on strike, if contract negotiations with the Mayor’s office fail. Mayor Emanuel is pushing for a longer school day, a new calender and new teacher evaluations.

Appealing to tourists The city of Chicago will open new tourism offices in Brazil, Germany and Japan this year, according to the Chicago Tribune. Last year, the city launched tourism offices in London, Toronto and Mexico City.

It can happen anywhere WKSU found new oil and gas drilling happening in some unexpected places in Ohio. One of the sites for a new “fracking” operation in the state is right under a school.

Midwest Memo: Detroit Has A Deal, Chicago Has Crippling Debt And Ohio Has Bulldozers

Detroit’s deal Last night, the Detroit City Council voted to approve a consent agreement with the state to avoid takeover by an emergency manager. That means, as long as the governor signs the deal as expected and the courts don’t strike the deal down, Detroit finally has the first step in a plan to avoid bankruptcy. Partner station Michigan Radio reports on what it all means.

Chicago’s debt problem The Chicago Sun-Times went looking for reasons why Chicago would turn to private partnerships to fund its new multi-billion dollar plan to rebuild infrastructure. One major reason: the city’s staggering debt. Chicago can’t take out any more bonds to pay for improvements because the city spends almost 23 percent of its annual budget paying off the $7.3 billion in debt it already has.

Illinois’ turn Illinois is getting into the fracking game. Crain’s Chicago Business says the state could see a natural gas-drilling “boomlet” as companies explore southern Illinois for possible drilling.

Bulldozing blitz Partner station WCPN Ideastream had a story on NPR’s Morning Edition today that looks at the effort to tear down vacant houses in Ohio. The state set aside $75 million from its share of the $25 billion nationwide mortgage fraud settlement to pay for demolitions.

No more coal ash The Ludington Daily News reports the city’s historic car ferry has received a grant to convert its fuel source. Without the grant, the coal powered ferry would have been forced to shut down by the EPA. The historic vessel dumps about 500 tons of coal ash into Lake Michigan every year.

#goodnewsforDetroit Twitter says it will open a new office in Detroit. Michigan Radio’s Jennifer Guerra reported the news in tweet form. You have to hear it.

Midwest Memo: Still No Deal In Detroit, Indiana’s Welfare Woes And Ohio Gas Stats

Still no deal Partner station Michigan Radio reports the Detroit City Council decided not to vote last night on a proposed consent agreement with the state to resolve the city’s financial crisis. A judge has blocked any agreement from going forward. Michigan governor Rick Snyder is appealing that decision. If no deal is reached by the end of the day tomorrow, Detroit will likely face a takeover by an emergency manager.

Indiana in court The state of Indiana is facing off in court with IBM over who was at fault when a $1.4 billion deal to handle the state’s welfare caseload went bad. IBM says the state broke off the deal because of budget problems. A lawyer for the state says IBM failed to meet its obligations, according to the Associated Press. The Department of Labor lists Indiana as the worst state in the nation when it comes to improper payments for welfare assistance. The DoL says Indiana has a 44% improper payment rate. The state disputes that number.

Groupon’s bad week It’s been a rough couple of days for Chicago-based Groupon. The coupon website was forced to revise its previous financial statements, and admit it has “material weakness” in its accounting practices. The SEC is reportedly looking into the problems. And now, the Chicago Tribune says a shareholder has filed a class action lawsuit.

A big fat check Whirlpool will write the state of Indiana an $800,000 check, after deciding to move jobs out of the state.

2.6 billion cubic feet That’s how much natural gas Chesapeake Energy pumped from Ohio shale formations last year, according to BusinessWeek.

Midwest Memo: Dow Downsizes, Romney’s Winning Streak And The Countdown In Detroit

Dow and out Dow Chemical says it will lay off 900 workers and close five factories worldwide. The Detroit Free Press reports the company wouldn’t say if any of those cuts would be in Michigan. Dow is based in Midland, Mich. One of the plants that will close is in Charleston, Ill.

Decision day It’s primary day in Wisconsin. NPR reports Romney is hoping to extend his winning streak in Great Lakes states.

Broken marriage The Federal Trade Commission has blocked a hospital merger deal in the Toledo area.

Fewer people on welfare Partner station WCPN reports Ohio’s welfare rolls dropped 18 percent in one year. One reason is the improving economy. But the station reports that a bigger reason is tighter welfare rules.

Clock is ticking Less than 72 hours remain for Detroit leaders to reach a deal with Lansing to avoid a state takeover.

Midwest Memo: Powering Up Wind Projects On The Lakes, Chicago’s Debt And Detroit In Disagreement

Windmills on the Lakes? The AP reports the federal government will announce a new plan today to speed up development of offshore wind farms on the Great Lakes. The government has signed agreements with five of the eight Great Lakes states to clear up the regulatory requirements for wind power projects in the Lakes. Proposed projects have faced opposition from groups worried that wind turbines will spoil views on the Lakes. Three states have not signed on to the new plan: Ohio, Indiana and Wisconsin.

Chicago’s debt Yesterday, Chicago Mayor announced a $7.2 billion plan to update the city’s infrastructure, without raising taxes. Reuters reports the city will take on new debt to pay for the plan. Chicago already has a higher debt burden than Los Angeles or New York.

Skeptical city council Detroit City Council members got a look at a new proposal from the state to resolve the city’s financial crisis, and it didn’t go well, according to partner station Michigan Radio. The two sides have five days to reach a deal, before the governor is forced to impose a restructuring plan, which would likely include the appointment of an emergency manager. But as Michigan Radio reports, “it’s clear the two sides are still a long way apart.”

Yay! The Michigan economy is at a six-year high, according to the Detroit News.

NATO … more like “NO-DOUGH,” amiright? The Chicago Tribune reports that the federal government usually covers all of the security costs related to hosting a NATO summit. But in Chicago, the government is only covering half the cost. Corporate donors are picking up the rest of the tab.

Ready to flow Ohio is getting its first liquefied natural gas station.

Midwest Memo: Chicago’s $7 Billion Plan, Appealing The Vatican And The Booms Are Back

That’s billion, with a “b” The New York Times reports on a new $7 billion plan to rebuild Chicago’s infrastructure. The Times says Mayor Rahm Emanuel will announce the plan during a speech today. He says the improvements will be paid for without raising property or sales taxes. As many as 30,000 jobs could be created.

School shortfall Partner station WBEZ reports the Chicago Public Schools district is facing a $700 million dollar deficit this year. The deficit came about because of rising pension costs. Officials say they were able to avoid painful cuts in the past few years, but this year those cuts are coming.

Church appeal Cleveland’s Bishop may appeal a Vatican decision to keep open 13 Cleveland-area churches. The bishop’s spokesman tells partner station WCPN Ideastream that attendance has fallen, and the churches create a financial burden for the diocese. The Vatican sent an order two weeks ago to reopen the churches.

Not over yet The booms are back in Clintonville, Wisc.

Midwest Memo: Amazon Invests In Indiana, Snyder Takes Questions And Cash Mobs Swarm Stores

Amazon’s deal Amazon will build a $150 million distribution center in southern Indiana. The decision to build came after Indiana agreed to let the retailer go two more years before forcing it to collect Indiana sales tax. BussinessWeek reports the distribution center could eventually have 1,000 jobs.

Ask Snyder Partner station Michigan Radio reports that governor Rick Snyder will take questions from Detroiters today. The governor says he wants people to know the facts about the state’s negotiations to fix the cities finances. Many Detroiters worry they’ll lose local control.

Judge assists A judge in Michigan says the state was wrong to cut off about 11,000 families from welfare assistance last year. The families were cut off because of a new federal five-year limit on receiving benefits. But the families were still eligible for the benefits under state law.

Still planning to protest An official with the Chicago Police says there’s been no drop in interest from protesters since the announcement that Chicago would not host the G-8 Summit. He says just as many protesters are planning to show up for the NATO meeting.

Ready for tourists Cleveland has a new five-year plan to attract more tourists to the city. Partner station WCPN Ideastream takes a look at the ideas.

The good mob Reuters looks at a new trend in local boosterism: cash mobs.