Midwest Memo: MLK Day Demonstrations Look At Financial Issues, End Of An Era In Chicago

Here are some stories making news across the Midwest today:

MLK Day: Two of the biggest names in the modern civil rights movement are celebrating MLK day here in the Midwest. The Chicago Sun-Times reports the Rev. Jesse Jackson planned to spend last night sleeping on the floor of a Chicago homeless shelter and the Associated Press reports that Rev. Al Sharpton will be in Michigan protesting outside the house of Gov. Rick Snyder. Sharpton will be protesting the state’s emergency manager law. Activists argue the law has disproportionately affected areas with a high African-American population. Gov. Snyder says the law is needed to prevent bankruptcy in cash-strapped communities. And here’s more information on that emergency manager law, from partner station Michigan Radio.

Ohio Schools: Partner station WCPN Ideastream has an interesting story out this morning that looks at the school districts in Ohio with both the highest and lowest per-pupil spending numbers. Spoiler alert: the district with the lowest per-pupil spending is actually in a well-to-do suburb.

More Rail? The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported over the weekend that officials at Amtrak are looking to expand rail service between Chicago and Minneapolis/St. Paul. The line runs through Wisconsin. In August, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker rejected an $810 million plan to expand the line between Madison and Milwaukee. Now, Wisconsin and Minnesota may split the $60,000 price tag for a feasibility study to expand rail across the region.

Speaking of Wisconsin, The TV website Hulu announced it’s launching an original comedy show focused on Wisconsin politics.

And, finally, the Chicago Tribune reports on the end of an era. Playboy, which started in Chicago in 1953, says it will close its Chicago office on April 30th. Employees will be asked to move to LA.

Midwest Memo: Detroit Suburbs Seek Spurned Transit Money, Wisconsin May Revisit Controversial Case

Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Contenders seek spurned transit funding. The city of Troy, Michigan rejected federal funds to build a mass-transit center. Now other suburban Detroit municipalities are lining up in hopes of claiming part of the $8.5 million. A U.S. Congressman pledged to have the money allocated to Royal Oak and Pontiac. The Detroit Free Press reports today a high-speed “turnaround area” for buses could be built in Pontiac while a rail facility could be built in Royal Oak. Meanwhile, Troy has faced a backlash for its decision. Gov. Rick Snyder wrote a letter saying he was “disappointed” in the decision, and Magna International, which employs more than 1,000 in Troy, said it will no longer seek expansion or job creation in the city.

2. Wisconsin fight not over yet? The Wisconsin Supreme Court could be asked to reopen a controversial case about collective bargaining legislation because a justice who presided in the original hearing received free legal service from an attorney involved in the case. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports Dane County district attorney Ismael Ozanne is “taking a hard look” at asking the Supreme Court to reopen the case. Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman cast the deciding vote in a ruling that said state legislators had not violated the open meetings law when mulling the controversial legislation, which allowed a decision to limit collective bargaining for public workers to stand.

3. EPA mandates could cost Ohio. Many utilities in Ohio and elsewhere must cut 90 percent of the mercury emitted from their power plants under toughened air pollution limits announced Wednesday by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “This is a great victory for public health, especially the health of our children,” said an EPA spokesperson. Industry representatives say the new rules mean more expensive electricity for customers and job losses because older plants may shut down rather than overhaul. The Columbus Dispatch says Ohio typically ranks No. 1 in the nation for the amount of toxic pollutants emitted by industry, largely because of power plants that burn coal.

Questions Emerge About Wisconsin Mining Bill, Detroit Suburbs Rejects Mass Transit, Housing Shows Slight Uptick

Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Who wrote Wisconsin mining bill? New details are emerging on who helped write a bill that overhauls Wisconsin’s mining laws. Last week, state Republicans declined to provide details on who authored the legislation. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported today that five Republican legislators, their staffs, representatives from the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce business lobby and officials from the mining company Gogebic Taconite all participated. Earlier this year, Gogebic Taconite demanded changes in mining legislation so the company could move forward with plans to open a $1.5 billion mine in a forested area of Iron and Ashland Counties.The Journal Sentinel reports that details of Assembly Bill 426 had been “kept under wraps for months,” leading to questions from environmentalists about who authored the legislation.

2. Detroit suburb rejects mass transit. The city council of one town in southeast Michigan rejected a proposal Monday to build a federally funded transportation center within its borders. The center in Troy, considered a key piece to a mass-transit system in metro Detroit, was voted down, 4-3. Opponents called the $8.5 million center a “waste of tax dollars,” according to the Detroit Free Press, although Troy would not have footed the bill. Earlier, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder sent a letter urging the council to support the proposal. Monday was the final day for a decision in order to complete the project by the Oct. 1, 2013 deadline set by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

3. Housing shows slight improvement. The homebuilding industry is showing modest improvement headed into 2012, according to analysts. The Associated Press reports that apartment construction and permits “surged” in November, jumping 9.3 percent from the previous month. It’s the highest level since April 2010. Still, the market remains troubled. Builders broke ground on a seasonally adjusted rate of 685,000 homes last month, but economists say a healthy housing market would produce 1.2 million homes each year. “While beginning to improve, a strong, sustained recovery in the housing market, especially the important single-family sector, is still a ways off,” Steven Wood, chief economist at Insight Economics, tells the AP.

Midwest Memo: Kasich Downplays Ohio’s Sears Hopes, Rail Improvements On Chicago-Detroit Line Come With Delays

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.”

In Ann Arbor, Crosswalk Law Reaches A Crossroads

Local laws serve as the blueprints for their communities.

Zoning codes and other local ordinances control nearly every aspect of how we function in our environments – how we shop, live and move. Those local laws are being increasingly rethought as cities around the industrial Midwest look to reinvent themselves.

Earlier this year, Changing Gears brought you a story from Streetsboro, Ohio, where town officials scrutinized the way zoning laws affected economic development and created a car-centric culture that favored big-box stores.

Now comes another story, perhaps of once city’s overreach in an earnest effort to become more friendly for pedestrians. Council members in Ann Arbor, Michigan passed an ordinance last year that mandated motorists stop if they think pedestrians are approaching the street, even if they haven’t yet entered the road.

Continue reading “In Ann Arbor, Crosswalk Law Reaches A Crossroads”

Trouble Ahead For Auto Industry’s Two-Tier Wage Structure

LIVONIA, Mich. – When Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne made his disdain for a two-tier wage system known at the conclusion of UAW contract negotiations in October, his comments weren’t so much parting shots as they were a preview of coming attractions.

The viability of the two-tier wage structure will be a defining issue of the next round of labor negotiations.

“What has to be decided in 2015 is, ‘Where are you going with the second tier,” said Art Schwartz, president of Labor & Economics Associates and a former lead labor negotiator for General Motors. “Where’s this going to lead eventually? That’s the big issue.”

Several analysts at a conference hosted Tuesday by the Center for Automotive Research predicted caps on the number of second-tier employees will gradually be raised, and that an intermediate wage rate between the two rates could be negotiated.

Continue reading “Trouble Ahead For Auto Industry’s Two-Tier Wage Structure”

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder Has New Ally In Fight For International Bridge

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has an unlikely ally in his push to build a new international bridge between Detroit and Canada — the Buckeye State.

Ohio state senators say their state needs the bridge as much as Michigan.

They have introduced a senate resolution encouraging their northern neighbors to build a replacement for the 83-year-old Ambassador Bridge. Ohio Senate Resolution 141 states that bilateral trade with Canada generated $30.9 billion in 2010, and said Canada was the top market for Buckeye State exports.

“A modern border crossing that can support the ever-increasing amount of trade and travel between the U.S. and Canada is essential to the economies of Ohio, the Midwest and the U.S.,” says SR141, which was introduced by Republican Sen. Gayle Manning.

Continue reading “Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder Has New Ally In Fight For International Bridge”

Midwest Memo: Michigan Debates International Bridge, Ohio Foreclosures Rise, U.P. Coal Plant Could Close

Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Detroit bridge project scrutinized. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder absorbed his first major political defeat since taking office – and it came at the hands of his own Republican party, which refused to green-light the construction of a new bridge between Detroit and Windsor. Expectations are growing, according to the Detroit Free Press, that Snyder will try to circumvent the legislature, a strategy that will raise legal questions about the range of the governor’s executive authority. Last week, Changing Gears senior editor Micki Maynard detailed the skirmish over the new bridge for The Atlantic Cities, and examined forceful opposition from Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun.

2. Ohio foreclosures on the rise. After enjoying their lowest level of foreclosures in five years, Ohio residents saw a foreclosure uptick in the third quarter of 2011, mirroring a nationwide trend. Our partner station Ideastream reports foreclosures in Cuyahoga County increased 17 percent from the previous three-month period. Experts attribute the jump to mortgage lenders resuming the foreclosure process after last year’s robo-signing scandal had halted proceedings. Over the summer, less than 1 percent of Ohio home loans entered the foreclosure process, Ideastream reports. Currently, 9.3 percent of Ohio mortgage holders are late on their payments, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.

3. Future of Michigan coal plant unclear. The only major power plant in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is at a crossroads. A coal-fired plant owned by We Energies could be shut down over the next five or six years as new environmental rules go into effect. One alternative would be a switch to natural gas, a conversion being employed by numerous plants across the Midwest. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports the future of the plant is of high concern in Marquette, where We Energies employs 180 workers and plays 17 percent of the city’s property taxes. “A closure would be devastating for our community,” Mayor John Kivela tells the newspaper.

(Clarification: An earlier version of this entry contained dated information. It has been revised to indicate that a Michigan state senate committee defeated a proposal regarding a new bridge linking Detroit to Canada last month.)

Midwest Memo: Michigan’s Unemployment Rate Drops, Indianapolis Plant Stops Using Coal, Hearing Held On Milwaukee Streetcar

Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Michigan’s unemployment rate drops. Michigan’s unemployment rate fell a half-point to 10.6 percent in October from 11.1 percent in September, according to numbers released Wednesday from the Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget. It was the second straight month the state’s rate declined. The decline came “due primarily to a reduction in the number of unemployed individuals actively seeking employment,” Rick Waclawek, director of the Bureau of Labor Market Information & Strategic Initiatives, said in a statement. Nationally, unemployment claims fell to a seven-month low Wednesday, according to our partner station WBEZ. The four-week average fell to 396,750, the first time the average has been below 400,000 in seven months.

2. Indy Plant Eschews Coal For Natural Gas. A plant that generates steam for heating some of Indianapolis’ biggest downtown institutions will convert its coal-burning boilers to natural gas. Citizens Energy Group CEO Carey Lykins tells the Indianapolis Star the project will “mean cleaner air for downtown Indianapolis and provide significant savings for our customers compared to continued use of coal.” The conversion could be completed as early as 2014 and save the company $5 million in annual operating costs. The Perry K plant heats many downtown businesses and institutions, including Lucas Oil Stadium and the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis campus.

3. Milwaukee Streetcar Support Swells. Supporters of a Milwaukee Streetcar project outnumbered its detractors by a 2-to-1 margin at a public hearing held Wednesday night on the planned streetcar line’s environmental impact. Supporters said the streetcar project will improve city transportation and stimulate economic development along the line. Opponents believe the cost is one the city cannot afford. City alderman have already voted to approve the project and move ahead with engineering, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, but have withheld final approval “until more details are fleshed out.”

Midwest Memo: Cleveland Mayor Presents Waterfront Development Plan, AirTran Ends Central Illinois Service

Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. New Cleveland lakefront development plan. For more than a century, development along Cleveland’s lakefront has come with “piecemeal action and broken promises,” writes The Plain Dealer. Mayor Frank Jackson presented a plan Monday for changing that, the newspaper reports today. Jackson’s plan included developing the waterfront from the city’s port to Burke Lakefront Airport with offices, restaurants, shops and marinas across a 90-acre space. The plan, according to EE&K architects, could take years to complete and reach $2 billion in value. Money for the project is expected to come from the private sector. Many who have watched similar plans never come to fruition in the past were skeptical at Monday’s press conference, but Jackson said this plan has the backing of key lakefront interests.

2. Detroit-area home sales up. Home sales in metro Detroit increased for the fourth consecutive month in October, according to a report from Farmington Hills, Mich.-based Realcomp II, which reports sales of condominiums and single-family homes jumped 4.8 percent. Median prices rose 7.7 percent to $70,000, according to The Detroit News. Sales were up in three of the metro areas four counties. Oakland, Livingston and Macomb counties all saw increases, while Wayne County sales decreased 3 percent.

3. AirTran cuts central Illinois service. AirTran announced Monday it would end service to five U.S. airports, including one in the Midwest that leaves local officials seeking an alternate air service plan. Central Illinois Regional Airport learned service would not continue, after being an AirTran destination for 15 years. The airline flew 40 percent of passengers from the Bloomington, Ill. facility. Although officials considered themselves an “underdog” for continued service amid airline consolidation, according to The News-Gazette of Champaign, the airport’s marketing director said the official announcement “changes the landscape for everybody.”