Changing Gears is a public media project about the future of the industrial Midwest. Each week, reporters Dan Bobkoff in Cleveland, Niala Boodhoo in Chicago and Kate Davidson in Ann Arbor cover issues of interest to the Great Lakes region. Changing Gears also sponsors public events and conversations.
Gambling go-ahead Partner station Michigan Radio reports last night the Lansing city council voted to approve a new $245 million casino. The casino would be built in the city’s downtown. It still needs federal approval.
Not the Abba song, right? Wisconsin governor Scott Walker talked to Greta Van Susteren of Fox News last night. He said the recall against him is a “Waterloo” for unions.
So much for pancakes this year Maple syrup producers in Wisconsin say this is their worst year in memory, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Because of the warm weather, sap only ran for one day in some places. Usually, it runs for weeks.
A “Mid-biennium Review” sounds like just about the least exciting thing in the world.
But Ohio governor John Kasich used his “Mid-biennium” budget talk yesterday for a ground-shaking announcement. Among a number of proposals unveiled, the governor announced new taxes for the many companies that are trying to extract natural gas and oil from Ohio shale.
If you haven’t heard by now, Ohio is sitting on an oil and gas bonanza. Up until a few years ago, no one could get at it, because it’s locked away in Ohio’s shale formations. But because of a new drilling procedure you’ve probably heard of called hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” all that gas and oil is now available.
As our own Dan Bobkoff reported in December, there is no shortage of hype about the possibilites for fracking in Ohio. The industry says it will create, or sustain 200,000 jobs. $200 billion could be invested over the next twenty years.
Lot o’ Lollapaloozas The Chicago Park District signed a new nine-year agreement with organizers of the Lollapalooza music festival, according to the Chicago Tribune. One park official says the deal will give the city a $1 billion boost over the next decade. But ticket prices for music fans will probably be going up.
Head Stop The federal government will stop sending $50 million a year to the city of Detroit to administer Head Start programs. The Detroit Free Press says the decision follows reports that city officials mishandled the money. Now, the government will try to find other organizations to run Head Start in the city.
Last month, Changing Gears’ Niala Boodhoo took a look at Wisconsin, a year after Republican Gov. Scott Walker won legislation that strips most public employees of their bargaining rights.
Now, The Atlantic Monthly is weighing in with its own take on Walker, and it had a tidbit that caught our eye. Staff writer Molly Ball asked Walker if he supported a Right to Work law, like the one that recently passed the Indiana legislature.
Walker replied, “Not oppose it, it’s just not something we’re pursuing right now.” He went on, “It’s not something I’m pursuing right now, nor have any plan of pursuing.”
Privatization problems An effort to privatize Michigan’s prisons and save $93 million in this year’s budget is stalled. The problem is that private contractors would have to pay prison workers the minimum wage $7.40 an hour. The Detroit News reports the state currently pays the workers a tenth of that amount.
Tax and switch Gas could get a lot cheaper in Michigan soon. But don’t worry, you’ll still lose that extra money another way. Lawmakers in Michigan are looking at a plan to replace the state’s 19 cents/gallon gas tax with a 1 percent increase in the overall sales tax. Partner station Michigan Radio says the idea is meant to increase funding for road repairs.
The State of Steubenville Ohio governor John Kasich delivers his State of the State address tonight. But instead of giving the speech at the state capitol, he’ll be at a public school in Steubenville. Partner station WCPN Ideastream explains why.
Detroit panel to meet in public A judge says there will be no more secret meetings to determine the fate of Detroit. A state-appointed panel is looking into the city’s finances to determine whether the city should be put under the control of an emergency manager. Now, partner station Michigan Radio reports the panel’s meetings must be held in public.
Job training, streamlined Ohio governor, John Kasich says this year, job training is “going to be, probably my seminal issue.” The Columbus Dispatch says streamlining Ohio’s current job training programs is at the top of the governor’s to-do list. Right now, Kasich says the state has 77 training programs across 13 agencies.
Radically local consumerism Residents in Chagrin Falls, Ohio decided to “occupy” their locally-owned hardware store over the weekend to help generate some business. USA Today says by 10 a.m., the store was jammed with a “cash mob.”
This is where we used to live It’s official, the former site of one of the country’s most violent and infamous public housing projects has been bought by Target. Crain’s Chicago Business reports Target bought the former Cabrini-Green property for $8.8 million.
Three stories making news across the Midwest today:
1. Kasich downplays Sears hopes. Gov. John Kasich says he “wouldn’t bet on” Ohio’s chances of convincing Sears to relocate its headquarters within its borders, The Plain Dealer reported today. During a visit to the Ford Assembly Plant in Avon Lake, he said Ohio remains in the running, but that it would be hard to pry Sears away from its long-time Chicago-area home. Last week, news outlets reported that Ohio had offered $400 million in tax incentives to bring the company and its 6,100 employees to Columbus. Illinois lawkmakers had rejected a proposal to give Sears $100 million in incentives.
2. Delays ahead on Detroit-Chicago rail line. Faster service is coming along a 135-mile stretch of train tracks between Dearborn and Kalamazoo . It’s just going to take a while. Construction will begin on a series of improvements in May or June, officials said yesterday, but the project will not be completed until 2015 or 2016. In the meantime, passengers can expect more delays. The Detroit Free Press reports today the project to fix tracks, cross ties, grades and crossings will cause further disruption. In four years, Amtrak expects new locomotives, new cars, smoother tracks and better signaling along the route. The improvements were funded as part of $403.2 million Michigan received from the federal government.
3. Indy community protests gas station development. The difference between refurbishing a dilapidated building and continuing a community eyesore? It’s largely in the eye of the beholder in one Indianapolis neighborhood, where residents of Northside are fighting the rebuilding of a gas station on the corner of 16th Street and Central Ave. In a lawsuit filed last week, opponents say the gas station no longer fits the area, and that they want something more friendly for pedestrians, such as shops or outdoor cafes, according to the Indianapolis Star. The newspaper reports the suit underscores the area’s progression from a “fixer-upper to up-and-coming.”
Three stories making news across the Midwest today:
1. Dayton seeks immigrant influx. Among industrial Midwest cities seeking to stop a population hemorrhage, Dayton, Ohio hardly stands alone in its attempts to attract highly educated immigrants. What’s unusual in Dayton is that the city wants the rest of the immigrants too. City Manager Tim Riordan tells our partner station WBEZ that welcome all immigrants regardless of skill or wealth will create “a vibrancy” in the city. Dayton’s population sank 14.8 percent over the past decade to 141,527 in the 2010 U.S. Census, a steep decline from its all-time high of 262,000 in the 1960s. Currently, foreign-born residents account for 3 percent of the city’s residents. But Riordan says newcomers are already building foundations in the western Ohio city.
2. Chrysler sales skyrocket. Driven by rising consumer confidence, Chrysler reported today that sales rose 45 percent in November year over year. Brand sales rose 92 percent thanks to increased demand for the 200 and 300 sedans, and Jeep sales increased 50 percent from November 2010. General Motors and Ford are both expected to release monthly sales numbers later today. “Consumer confidence is really what’s going to underpin us as we go into 2012, so we’re really pleased to see that showing up,” GM’s Don Johnson tells our partner Michigan Radio. Industry sales appear to be on pace for 13 million units in 2011.
3. Ohio courts Sears. Two days after Illinois lawmakers jilted Sears Holdings Corp. in its attempt to win tax incentives worth $100 million from the state, the Chicago-based company has a new suitor. Ohio has offered Sears incentives worth four times that amount to relocate its headquarters and 6,200 jobs to the Buckeye State. Texas is another state aggressively courting the company, according to the office of Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn. His counterpart, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, declined to confirm or deny an offer to Sears, joking with The Columbus Dispatch that, “we are somewhere between $0 and $400 million.”