Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Ohio’s Issue 2 trails at polls. A Quinnipiac Poll conducted last week showed Ohio voters are likely to vote down Issue 2 by a 25-percent margin, according to The Columbus Dispatch. Such a vote, which would scuttle Senate Bill 5 legislation signed earlier this year, would lead to more questions than answers, says the newspaper. Even if Issue 2 falls, Republicans still believe the state’s collective-bargaining laws need an overhaul. And although polls show fierce opposition to SB5, The Dispatch says there is strong support for portions of it, including merit pay and seniority-based raises.

2. Snyder addresses Michigan’s rail future. Gov. Rick Snyder will deliver the keynote address today at the Michigan Rail Summit in Lansing, a conference that will details the state of rail service in the state. Last week, the governor called for more than $1 billion in infrastructure improvements throughout Michigan. Snyder’s spokesperson, Sara Wurfel, tells our partner station Michigan Radio that Snyder believes “rail is very important to that mix, both passenger and freight.” Michigan recently secured a federal grant to purchase and upgrade 140 miles of track to be part of accelerated service between Detroit and Chicago.

3. Icahn acquires stake in Navistar. Regulatory filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission showed that billionaire investor Carl Icahn has acquired a large stake in Navistar International Corp. The Warrenville, Ill.-based truck-maker released a statement after the documents were made public, saying “Navistar’s board and management team are committed to acting in the best interests of all the company’s stockholders.” Icahn acquired 9.8 percent of Navistar’s stock. Although he’s usually a harsh critic of the companies he acquires, according to the Chicago Tribune, he was optimistic about Navistar. “If you look ahead a few years with Navistar, you see good things,” he told CNBC. Last month, Changing Gears reporter Niala Boodhoo profiled the company, and examined a year’s worth of changes that perhaps preserved jobs in the Midwest and put the company on more competitive footing.

 

 


Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Michigan governor wants infrastructure investment. In a speech to the state Legislature today, Gov. Rick Snyder said Michigan can no longer delay investment in its transportation infrastructure. He proposed a $120 registration fee hike per year on passenger vehicles that would generate $1 billion in annual revenue. Snyder also wants to replace the state’s 19-cents-per-gallon tax on gasoline with a wholesale tax on fuel, according to our partner station Michigan Radio. “By investing in the means to move people and products with speed and efficiency, we can compete with other states and countries for business and jobs – and we can win,” Snyder said in written remarks.

2. Cleveland school board makes cuts. Over the protests of residents and teachers who packed a high school auditorium, Cleveland’s school board voted to make $13.1 million in budget cuts Tuesday in order to comply with a state requirement to balance its budget. Among the cuts: preschool, spring sports and busing for high school students. Board members said the cuts came as a result of a decrease in state aid and the rehiring of 300 teachers this fall. “Do we have the ability to print money? I don’t think we do,” board member Eric Wobser told The Plain Dealer.

3.Groupon overhauls sales staff. On Wednesday, Groupon CEO Andrew Mason told investors the Chicago-based company is replacing the bottom 10 percent of its sales staff of 4,800 employees. The goal is to win stronger deals from merchants and ensure continued growth, according to the Chicago Tribune. The move comes as Groupon readies for an initial public offering expected to raise $10 to $11.4 billion. Analysts have grown concerned that the company has failed to win enough repeat customers. Repeat customers increased in the second quarter, but numbered 16 million among 143 million subscribers, according to a regulatory filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.


Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Michigan governor wants infrastructure investment. In a speech to the state Legislature today, Gov. Rick Snyder said Michigan can no longer delay investment in its transportation infrastructure. He proposed a $120 registration fee hike per year on passenger vehicles that would generate $1 billion in annual revenue. Snyder also wants to replace the state’s 19-cents-per-gallon tax on gasoline with a wholesale tax on fuel, according to our partner station Michigan Radio. “By investing in the means to move people and products with speed and efficiency, we can compete with other states and countries for business and jobs – and we can win,” Snyder said in written remarks.

2. Cleveland school board makes cuts. Over the protests of residents and teachers who packed a high school auditorium, Cleveland’s school board voted to make $13.1 million in budget cuts Tuesday in order to comply with a state requirement to balance its budget. Among the cuts: preschool, spring sports and busing for high school students. Board members said the cuts came as a result of a decrease in state aid and the rehiring of 300 teachers this fall. “Do we have the ability to print money? I don’t think we do,” board member Eric Wobser told The Plain Dealer.

3.Groupon overhauls sales staff. On Wednesday, Groupon CEO Andrew Mason told investors the Chicago-based company is replacing the bottom 10 percent of its sales staff of 4,800 employees. The goal is to win stronger deals from merchants and ensure continued growth, according to the Chicago Tribune. The move comes as Groupon readies for an initial public offering expected to raise $10 to $11.4 billion. Analysts have grown concerned that the company has failed to win enough repeat customers. Repeat customers increased in the second quarter, but numbered 16 million among 143 million subscribers, according to a regulatory filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.


Rahm Emanuel earned his political breakthrough while working as the chief fundraiser for Chicago’s Richard M. Daley during his first mayoral campaign in 1989. When Emanuel moved on to positions in the White House and a Congressional job, Daley often functioned as a mentor.

Yet in his first five months in the office formerly occupied by Daley, Emanuel has laid the foundation to dismantle many of the core tenets of Daley’s long tenure as mayor. Changing Gears senior editor Micki Maynard, writing in The Atlantic, examines the changes outlined by Emanuel.

In part, they’re driven by finances. In facing an unprecedented $637 million budget deficit, Emanuel has proposed police and fire department cuts – two sacred budget lines in the Daley era – among a laundry list of other proposed reductions.

On Friday, Emanuel’s proposed $10 million cut to the city’s library budget, one that would cost the city 284 jobs, drew a frosty reception from some city aldermen, according to our partner station WBEZ.

After a dozen years of deficits, Emanuel has no choice. “The highest priority is to get the city’s fiscal house in order,” Joe Moore, an alderman from the city’s north side, tells Maynard.

But the differences between the two mayors branch beyond fiscal conditions. Stark differences also exist in their approaches to communication, their transparency in government dealings and personal style.

As The Atlantic headline suggests, Emanuel has become “the Anti-Daley.”


Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Chicago food deserts dwindle. Fewer Chicago residents are living in food deserts, according to a recently released report. In the past five years, the number of residents living in so-called food deserts – a low-income census tract where a substantial number of residents lack access to a grocery store – has dropped 40 percent. The study’s author, Mari Gallagher, tells partner station WBEZ that some “big name” stores have arrived in poorer communities, but that the remaining problem lies in African-American neighborhoods on the city’s south and west sides.

2. Ohio unemployment rate holds steady. Ohio’s unemployment rate remained unchanged at 9.1 percent in September, according to data released Friday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It marked the third consecutive month the Buckeye State’s unemployment rate was at or above the 9 percent mark. State officials found some promise in the numbers. “We’re in a recovery, we just think it’s going to take some time,” Angela Terez, spokesperson for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, tells our partner station Ideastream. “We’re seeing some good things like initial unemployment claims going down, and the number of layoffs going down.”

3. Wisconsin repaying $1.18 billion. The state of Wisconsin owes the federal government $1.18 billion borrowed to pay unemployment benefits, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The state has made $42.4 million in interest payments to date in 2011, and is taking several steps to pay the money back, including enforcing a one-week waiting period for people seeing unemployment benefits. Among 27 states that owe the federal government money, Wisconsin ranks 11th. California takes dubious top honors, owing $8.63 billion, according to the newspaper.


A few years ago, crime topped the concerns of residents in Atlanta, Chicago and New York. These days, residents expect low crime.

The mayors of those three cities spoke Monday, all agreeing those concerns have shifted. Anecdotally, they say that, these days, citizens ask them most about concerned with housing costs and their jobs.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel/Micki Maynard

“And if they have kids, school,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York said, while speaking Monday, October 10, during a panel discussion that kicked off Chicago Ideas Week. “They don’t care about what’s at a national level or state level. If they haven’t lost a house or job, they’re worried about it. It is very local.”

Bloomberg was joined by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed on the panel about issues facing local governments, which was moderated by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman and sponsored in part by Changing Gears and our partner station WBEZ.

Emanuel said that laying the foundation for economic growth and job creation has been the central focus of his first five months in office. He said Chicago’s central U.S. location has given the city a geographic advantage in maintaining – and hopefully expanding – its infrastructure.

“We’re the only airport system with two major carries, and a quarter to a third of the nation’s rail freight comes through Chicago,” he said. “Rails, roads and runways. We invest in those, Chicago will continue to recruit companies and expand.”

Here’s a look back at their discussion:


Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Ohio misses tax revenue. Ohio businesses are losing out of “hundreds of millions” because internet companies do not collect tax dollars at the point of sale, according to a report from the University of Cincinnati’s Economics Center. Over a six-year period, the study’s author said the state will miss $1.1 billion between 2007 and 2012. At the same time, the competitive disadvantage for store-based retailers would result in a $600 million loss, Jeff Rexhausen, the study’s spokesperson, tells our partner station, Ideastream. He says approximately 11,000 jobs could be created if the loophole is closed.

2. Mixed Chicago real-estate numbers. In September, sales of all Chicago properties rose 6.8 percent year over year, and were accompanied by a median price increase of 5.6 percent. Outside the city, the story was a little different. In the nine-county Chicago area, sales rose 13.3 percent year over year, but the median price declined 8.6 percent to $160,000. The biggest drop came in Kane County, which endured a 20 percent median-price decline. “The slow economy and job recovery are sever drags on the market,” Loretta Alonzo, president of the Illinois Association of Realtors, tells the Chicago Tribune. “Plus, many able buyers are hitting roadblocks on financing a home purchase due to the overcorrection in mortgage underwriting requirements.”

3. Michigan unemployment rate down. Michigan’s unemployment rate fell by one-tenth of one percent in September, settling at 11.1 percent. Total employment rose by approximately 4,000 and the number of unemployed fell by 6,000, according to the Detroit Free Press. The rate is two percentage points higher than the national rate of 9.1 percent. Although the decline was the first since April, it was too miniscule to indicate the direction of the state economy, according to the newspaper. The flat rate hides an upswing in hiring, Jim Thompson, vice president of business development at JMJ Phillip.


Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Illinois Gov. rejects big gambling. After months of more subtle indications he would not sign a sweeping bill that opens Illinois to 14 new casinos, Gov. Pat Quinn made his position official with a blunt statement Monday. “I’m the final word,” he told the Chicago Sun-Times. “Casino gambling at 14 different locations in Illinois is way too much. We have no interest in becoming the Las Vegas of the Midwest.” Quinn suggested he would sign a scaled-down bill that allows for a Chicago casino and a handful of others – if some revenues boost education coffers in the state.

2. Ohio Dems push new referendum. An Ohio Supreme Court ruling Friday has paved the way for a Democrat-backed referendum on new congressional district lines. They consider the Republican-drawn lines unfair – a position backed by the court – and are seeking 231,234 signatures needed for a November 2012 referendum on the issue. The Columbus Dispatch reported Tuesday the entanglement could throw Ohio’s 2012 primary election “into chaos,” and the GOP-controlled state legislature, has been called into session this week to address the issue.

3. More jobs ahead at General Motors? After a decade of subpar offerings in the compact car market, General Motors CEO Dan Akerson tells the Detroit Free Press that, based on recent compact successes, he foresees adding more jobs on top of the 6,400 called for in the recent UAW contract, possible in Orion Township, Mich. and Spring Hill, Tenn. He foresees gradual introduction of more two-tier employees. “We’re not trying to hurt anybody,” he tells the newspaper. “We’re trying to stay strong. So over time, as part of the labor contract, we would buy out some of our more senior employees. … We’ll get there, but we don’t need to be punishing.”


Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Mixed Chicago foreclosure news. The number of foreclosure filings in the Chicago area fell in September, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the crisis is dissipating. Our partner station WBEZ reports it’s merely getting dragged out. Ed Jacob, head of a city non-profit that helps people stay in their homes, says banks are taking more time to make sure their foreclosure paperwork is in order, and a backlog has been created that may take two to three years to process. “It’s a slow slog,” he tells the station. “It’s like we’re running through quicksand or we’re running through mud.”

2. Ohio examines municipal collaborations. Founded seven years ago, a group examining consolidation and collaboration among Ohio municipalities is finally gaining some traction. Many officials discussed the topic at a regional conference held in Akron on Thursday, according to our partner station Ideastream. “We’ve identified about 250 efforts of some kind, and then over half of those efforts have actually culminated in some ongoing collaboration,” John Hoombeck, director of the Center for Public Administration and Public Policy, tells the station. The highest numbers of collaborations have come in public-safety areas. Economic development ranks second.

3. Ford contract in jeopardy. With a little more than a third of voting completed, Ford workers are narrowly supporting the automaker’s tentative contract with the United Auto Workers union. As of 11:30 a.m. on Friday morning, 50.8 percent of voters supported the contract. According to the UAW Ford Department, 6,271 workers had voted in favor of the deal, while 6,085 had rejected it. Thirty-six percent of votes had been received, with voting set to end Tuesday. The numbers represented a swing  from earlier results, in which 53.2 percent of the counted votes had nixed the deal.


Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Biden champions jobs bill. Vice President Joe Biden made two stops in Michigan on Wednesday, touting President Obama’s $447 billion jobs bill. In a visit to Flint, Biden noted the city’s rise in murders, rapes and fires that occurred as police and fire staffing levels dropped. “That is a witch’s brew,” Biden tells Businessweek. “That is a mixture for a cancer in the city.” Later, during a stop in Grand Rapids, the vice president said economists believe the American Jobs Act would create 2 million jobs next year. Flint Mayor Dayne Walling said federal funding recently helped the city hire six police officers, but more are needed.

2. Chicago budget proposal chops services. On Wednesday, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel unveiled a budget that called for taxes on tourists and suburbanites, close three police stations, streamline garbage collection, cut library hours and double water bills for the average household by 2015, according to the Chicago Tribune. “I’ve taken on a tremendous amount of political sacred cows,” Emanuel said  during a presentation to the City Council. “Not once, not twice, not three times, not four times, but multiple times across the budget.”

3. Hydrofracking permits soar in Ohio. The pace of permits being issued for hydrofracking in Ohio has quickened. The Columbus Dispatch reports today that 27 permits were issued for drilling in the Utica Shale formation underneath Ohio from July to September – more than half the total number issued since 2009. Meanwhile, Democrats in the state House said yesterday they would seek a moratorium on hydrofracking in the state until the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency completes a study on the controversial drilling’s effects on air and water.