Midwest Memo: No Oversight In Infrastructure Plan, Stimulus Funds To Closed Schools And Casino Competition

Infrastructure plan, examined Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s $7.2 billion infrastructure plan gets a hearing today at the City Council. The Chicago Tribune reports the plan would give a board of financiers the ability to approve multi-million dollar deals with almost no oversight. Some aren’t happy with the idea.

Stimulating failure The Dayton Daily News reports that nearly $5 million in federal stimulus funding went to charter schools in Ohio that have since closed their doors. Millions more went to schools that were accused of mishandling funds in the past, according to the paper.

Casino competition Indiana is expecting to lose $100 million in state revenue as new casinos open in Ohio. The new Ohio casinos are expected to take away customers from Indiana’s casinos according to the Herald Bulletin.

Empty buildings, full of danger The Detroit Free Press looks at the harrowing walk to school for many of Detroit’s children. The Freep has a twopart series at the dangers children face from the 33,000 vacant buildings near Detroit schools.

Parking lawsuit A deal to privatize four city-owned parking garages in downtown Chicago has led to a $200 million lawsuit, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

Banking on land banks Partner station WCPN Ideastream says more Ohio counties are setting up land banks to deal with the problem of vacant property.

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: A Casino Gamble, Wisconsin Primary And Red Cross Workers On Strike

Taking a chance A group in Michigan wants to change the state’s constitution to allow more casino gambling. According to the Detroit Free Press, the group is proposing new casinos in eight locations, including downtown Detroit and Grand Rapids.

Two politicians, two views of the economy Wisconsin primary voters head to the polls tomorrow. The Boston Herald has a look at one campaign event over the weekend that featured both Mitt Romney and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. Though they shared a stage, they both offered different views on the state of our economy.

Still on strike It’s the eighth week of a strike for about 250 Red Cross Workers in Northern Ohio. The workers help run mobile blood collection units for the charity. Partner station WCPN Ideastream reports there’s still no sign of a deal in the strike that started in February.

Engineers in demand The Detroit Free Press reports on better job prospects for engineers. At a recent engineering conference in Metro Detroit, the paper reports open jobs outnumbered attendees nearly six to one.

Drill now, drill where? Some state-owned land in Michigan could be opened up for oil and gas drilling, according to partner station Michigan Radio.

Hello, tax revenue Bloomberg News reports cities in Michigan that collect income tax are seeing a windfall this year.

Two More Views On The Casino Economy

Credit: flickr user Michael Kappel

Yesterday, we used some Bon Jovi lyrics to explain the casino boom in the Midwest.

But while we were busy analyzing what casinos tell us about our regional economy, both The Atlantic Magazine and the New York Times Magazine published long, in depth looks at the state of casino gambling in the U.S. Both pieces are worth a read.

The Atlantic‘s Mark Bowden writes about “The Man Who Broke Atlantic City.” He profiles savvy blackjack player Don Johnson, who managed to win $15 million from three Atlantic City casinos on three different days.

Bowden writes that Johnson was able to take advantage of the casinos because, as a high-roller, he could negotiate his own rules for playing blackjack – small changes that tilted the odds of the game in his favor.

Bowden writes that the casinos gave Johnson the special rules because they’re desperate for revenue.

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How Bon Jovi Explains The Midwest’s Casino Boom

A rendering of the proposed Kewadin Lansing Casino. Photo courtesy of Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians.

Next week, the city council in Lansing, Mich. is expected to vote on a proposal for a $245 million casino for the city’s downtown.

The proposal is just the latest in what’s starting to look like a casino-boom in the Midwest. Both Toledo and Cleveland have new casinos opening in May. The Detroit Free Press reported last week that there are no fewer than 22 casino proposals in Michigan right now. And Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel is still holding out hope for Illinois leaders to approve gambling in his city.

At first glance, it’s easy to see why casino gambling is such a hot topic right now. Casinos bring hundreds of millions of dollars in new investment, including construction jobs and long-term jobs for dealers, waiters, cooks and others.

Also, research has shown that regions in economic stress are more likely to use gambling as an economic development tool. Here in the Midwest, there’s been plenty of economic stress.

But it’s not exactly a settled issue whether casino gambling actually creates economic development.

So why all the interest?

Continue reading “How Bon Jovi Explains The Midwest’s Casino Boom”

Midwest Memo: Upper Peninsula Enjoys Mining Surge, Scott Walker Wastes No Time Plotting Wisconsin Recall Strategy

Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Upper Peninsula’s mining boom. The mining industry in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan is enjoying a renaissance more than a century after its best days passed. New technology demands are creating demand for gold, silver, copper and nickel, the Detroit Free Press reports today. Foreign companies are finding them in abundance in both new and reopened ore mines. Mineral rights on more than 1 million acres have been leased for prospecting. But many of the mines are near rivers and Lake Superior, sparking concern among environmentalists. “I’m not anti-mine. I’m anti-mining pollution,” one advocate tells the newspaper.

2. Busy finale ahead for Illinois legislators. The Illinois state legislature could end its fall session Tuesday with a flurry of activity. Lawmakers are expected to vote on several pieces of legislation that have garnered attention for months, including a bill that would expand the Earned Income Tax Credit, which extends larger refunds to working families. Our partner station WBEZ reports the legislature could also tackle a package of tax incentives designed to keep CME Group and Sears based in in the state. Both have been wooed in recent months by Indiana and other competitors. A vote on legislation that would expand gambling in the state could also take place.

3. Walker plots recall strategy. A possible recall election may not take place until next summer, but Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is wasting no time in campaigning to keep his job. Walker is running television ads defending his 11-month record and Republican volunteers are going door to door canvassing likely voters. USA Today reports Walker’s office is trying to learn from the only two successful gubernatorial recalls in U.S. history. They believe California Gov. Gray Davis (2003) and North Dakota Gov. Lynn Frazier in 1921 both started campaigning too late to save their jobs. “There’s this momentum that builds, and once it builds it’s very difficult for things to reverse,” David Schecter, a political scientist at Cal State Fresno, tells the newspaper.