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Follow the money Yesterday, the federal government announced a $25 billion settlement with mortgage companies who are accused of improperly handling foreclosures during the housing crisis. $1 billion of that amount will go to Illinois. $790 million will go to Michigan. $335 million will go to Ohio. $145 million will go to Indiana. And $140 million will go to Wisconsin, where Governor Scott Walker announced that part of the money will go toward filling the state’s budget deficit. It’s a controversial decision.

Budget cuts? Who needs ‘em? Michigan Governor Rick Snyder announced his budget plans yesterday. The state is projecting a surplus this year. Snyder proposes spending a little extra money on education, if student performance goals can be met. He’s also proposing a spending increase for public safety, and saving $130 million for a rainy day fund.

A Right to Work battle for Ohio? Partner station WCPN Ideastream reports that activists in Ohio are gathering signatures to put a Right to Work measure on the ballot for a vote. Organizers say it will be a challenge to gather enough signatures to get the issue on this year’s ballot, but they believe they can get it on in 2013.

Taking back the street The Detroit Free Press has a fascinating story about how a group of neighbors in Southwest Detroit managed to get a drug dealer on their street put behind bars.

Health care investment The Detroit Medical Center is planning a new $50 million facility in the suburb of Royal Oak.

Car show The Chicago Auto Show opens today. Partner station WBEZ has a look at what to expect.


This is the second in a two-part series about what’s changed for public workers in Wisconsin, one year after labor protests gripped the state (part one is here).

Niala Boodhoo

Cory Roberts says he worries what will happen to his fellow firefighters after a number of towns in Wisconsin have tried to balance their budgets by increasing pension and healthcare costs for public safety workers.

The Capitol building in Madison is amazing – anyone can just walk in. And in Madison, people often do just visit, like Brian Austin, who often brings his children here.

Austin is a detective with the City of Madison’s police department. He was also one of the tens of thousands who packed this building in protest when Gov. Walker proposed limiting union rights for public workers. The law – Act 10 – passed anyway. So Austin says when he goes into the building now, he can’t help think of it as a “completely different” building – and he means that in both a positive and a negative way.

His ambivalence is because he says Walker has brought the Wisconsin workers together – even though they’re suffering now.

The Wisconsin state worker’s union estimates that some 22,000 public employees are taking home 13 percent less pay since the law has taken effect. As it was written, public safety workers like police officers were supposed to be exempt.

But now, police and firefighters are finding, they, too, are facing increased pension and health care costs.

“We knew there was going to be a slippery slope,” says Jim Palmer, executive director of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association, the state’s largest police union.

“Economic conditions that are impacting Wisconsin aren’t going to go away,” Palmer says. “And we knew that if municipalities in this state continue to see a shortfall, and if police and firefighters are the only ones with collective bargaining rights, we would be next.”

Last fall, the city of Madison saved more than $2 million when the mayor asked police and fire unions to renegotiate their contracts. Now, workers are contributing three percent more to their pensions and are paying for their own uniforms. In return, no one was laid off or furloughed.

Palmer – the union rep – says that’s how collective bargaining is supposed to work. But it’s hasn’t been so agreeable elsewhere.

In a decision that’s yet to be announced, the Wisconsin police union and Eau Claire County have gone before the state labor board over police contracts there. Eau Claire’s corporate counsel, Keith Zehms, says the county is simply following the law.

“Our position is based on the change that the state legislature made in the law last summer,” Zehms says.

Zehms isn’t talking about Act 10. He’s referring to the state budget. It contained language allowing municipalities leeway in negotiating health care contracts for all of its workers – including public safety.

And that’s why some local governments are saying police and firefighters have to pay more on health care costs – regardless of what the union says. So the unions are fighting back. As of now, there are at least three court cases going on in Eau Claire, but also Milwaukee and Green Bay.

At issue is whether the unions have the right to bargain over health care costs – how much workers pay for deductibles and premiums.

Back at the capitol building in Madison, Detective Austin walks outside to where about one hundred people were singing. It’s a noonday protest that has occurred every day since last Feb. 14, when the protests really began. Austin isn’t the only public safety worker in the crowd.

Madison firefighter Cory Roberts says he’s there because even though his union has reached an agreement with his city, he’s worried about his colleagues elsewhere.

“People say you have amazing benefits,” Roberts says. “but, you know, those were negotiated in lieu of wages at some point.”

Roberts is holding a sign that says “Recall Scott Walker.” Last month, Wisconsin Democrats turned in one million signatures to recall Walker. His Republican supporters have until the end of this month to challenge the signatures.

Austin and Roberts both said something you hear echoed more than a few times by public safety workers in Wisconsin. Before last year, they stayed out of politics. But now, they’re actively engaged – trying to get the governor voted out of office.


Rahm Emanuel has only been in office since May, but today he scored his first major political victory. Chicago’s city council voted 50-0 in favor of a budget plan that calls for fee increases, layoffs and major changes in the way the city does business.

That isn’t to say all the aldermen liked it. During two hours of debate, there were complaints about aspects of the plan that will close libraries and close six mental health clinics.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel

But there also was praise for Emanuel for working closely with city council members on his proposal to address a $635 million deficit. Ed Burke, considered the city’s most powerful alderman, said the budget process was the most cooperative he had seen in 42 years.

While he was working on the plan, Emanuel, the former White House chief of staff, said he was no longer going to “kick the can down the road” on the city’s problems  — a veiled reference to his predecessor, and political mentor, Richard M. Daley. (I looked at Emanuel and Daley in this story for Atlantic Cities last month.)

In Wednesday’s debate, Alderman Richard Mell told the mayor, “It’s obvious that when you we’re a kid, you never learned the game of kick the can. Everybody felt the pain. The only way you are going to make the gain is to feel the pain.”

Visitors will be among those feeling the pain. As we reported last month, Emanuel’s proposal includes higher taxes at downtown parking garages and at hotels. People who purchase the city’s car registration stickers also will be paying more.

But Emanuel already has convinced city council to eliminate a head tax on companies with 50 of more employees in the city, a move he says is why Ford is adding more jobs at its Chicago plants.