Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Cook County’s foreclosure crisis. Despite proclamations that the recession is over, officials in Cook County, Illinois are nonetheless concerned about the 70,000 outstanding foreclosure cases within their borders. They held an emergency summit Thursday to discuss possible responses, according to our partner station WBEZ. Community organizer Leon Finney says the group will consider “home-ownership counseling, tighter bank regulations and stronger courts.”

2. Debt concerns reach Michigan. The state of Michigan receives approximately $400 million per week in federal funds, receipts that make up 44 percent of its $45 billion budget. John Nixon, the state’s budget director, isn’t sure how Michigan will continue to make payments next week if the federal government defaults, according to the Associated Press. Gov. Rick Snyder is concerned. “We’re prepared for a number of scenarios,” he told the AP.

3. Japanese manufacturing rises. Japanese manufacturing activity, which has strong ties to the Midwest economy in the U.S., saw activity increase at the fastest pace since the March nuclear disaster in July, according to Reuters. The Markit/JMMA index rose to a seasonally adjusted 52.1 in July, up from 50.7 in June. It’s the third straight month the manufacturing sector expanded, and an expert says if the trend is sustained, it will be “a vote of confidence in the economic outlook.” Earlier this year, Changing Gears examined the ripple effects of the Japanese economy throughout the Midwest.


It took more than a decade of political wrangling for the Milwaukee Common Council to craft and approve a plan for a $64.6 million downtown streetcar project that was finally green-lighted Monday.

Sort of.

Because of concerns aired during contentious debates about possible cost overruns, the council limited current spending to engineering expenses. No money for construction will be released until a comptroller reviews the project.

“I view this as a significant step, but by no means do I view this as the end of the road,” Mayor Tom Barrett told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Barrett noted that Milwaukee is one of few American cities that has no light-rail or streetcar public transportation in supporting the plan.

Officials say the project could create anywhere from 680 to 1,080 jobs in the city, depending on which particular routes are included in the plans. Approximately $55 million of the project will be covered by a federal transit grant the city received in 1991 and, to date, has left unused. The remaining $9 million will come from a local city tax and parking fees.

But others fear that moving utility lines for the project, among other items, could wind up costing Milwaukee millions more in unseen expenses.

The street car is an “absolutely horrible idea,” Alderman Joe Dudzik told Milwaukee Public Radio. “My true thoughts about this idea is that the first car that we put on the track should be named ‘Abyss’ because we could be building a hole in the late and throwing money into it for the rest of this city’s existence.”


Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Head tax faces guillotine. Mayor Rahm Emanuel pledged to end the city’s head tax on businesses with 50 or more employees during his campaign. Now Chicago aldermen are negotiating what comes next, according to our partner station WBEZ. Companies with 50 or more employees are taxed $4 per month per each full-timer on the payroll. Although the city generates $20 million in revenue each year, some officials are concerned the tax discourages expansion.

2. Detroit mayor unveils overhaul. The city of Detroit will no longer treat its neighborhoods equally. They will instead be designated as steady, transitional or distressed, and city services will be prioritized in certain areas, according to The Detroit News. Detroit mayor Dave Bing said the move is a “short-term intervention strategy” to save certain neighborhoods. The redeployment strategy begins in two weeks. “We must be smarter about how we align our resources,” Bing told The News.

3. Ford building second India factory. Following in the footsteps of rivals General Motors and Tata Motors, Ford announced today it would build a factory in the western state of Gujarat in India. The $906 million facility will be operational in 2014, according to Bloomberg. The factory is Ford’s second in India, with another plant located in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. Analysts said the move gives Ford access not only to northern India, but perhaps to the European market as well.


Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. How default may affect Chicago. The city of Chicago plans to borrow $800 million later this year. A short-term debt default wouldn’t affect those plans, but could affect interest rates. Crain’s Chicago Business analyzed what a downgrade of the federal government’s credit rating would mean for the city and state of Illinois: the addition of “hundreds of millions of dollars in interest costs to bonds.”

2. Demand for manufactures goods falls. Orders for U.S. manufactured goods fell in June and another barometer of business spending declined, deepening worries that the economy’s current slump could worsen. The Commerce Department said Wednesday that durable-goods orders fell 2.1 percent, according to Reuters. That follows a 1.9 percent increase in May. Capital goods orders, excluding aircraft, fell 0.4 percent in June.

3. Fuel-economy deal ahead. Officials in the Obama administration say recent changes will make it easier to reach a deal with automakers to increase fuel economy. A proposal for light trucks to get 56.2 miles per gallon by 2025 has been lowered to 54.5, according to the Associated Press. Last week, Michigan lawmakers said the higher proposal was “overly aggressive.” In 2009, automakers reached an agreement to boost fuel-economy standards to 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016.


Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Unemployment rises in Ohio. Unemployment rates climbed in 84 of Ohio’s 88 counties in June, providing more evidence the economy has slowed. It’s the first time since early 2010 the Buckeye State’s unemployment rate rose. The state rate climbed to 8.8 percent in June, up from 8.6 percent in May, according to Cincinnati.com. Manufacturing jobs declined by approximately 3,000 in June, but government jobs diminished more. More than 7,000 were lost last month.

2. Loan program starts in Michigan. Michigan will be the first state eligible for small-business loans given by a federal government program to businesses investing in clean energy or located in economically troubled areas, according to the Associated Press. Details of the plan, part of President Obama’s “Start-Up America” initiative, are expected to be announced this afternoon. The initiative combines private institutional investors and federal funds to invest in targeted companies.

3. Gary, Ind. endures property-tax nightmare. One in three homeowners in Gary, Ind., has missed a property-tax payment. Worse, the city only collects 72.4 percent of its expected revenues, the lowest percentage of any Indiana city. Our partner WBEZ examines a wave of property-tax problems affecting Gary and the consequences of the shortfall, such as keeping police on their beats and providing basic education functions.


Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Unemployment rises in Ohio. Unemployment rates climbed in 84 of Ohio’s 88 counties in June, providing more evidence the economy has slowed. It’s the first time since early 2010 the Buckeye State’s unemployment rate rose. The state rate climbed to 8.8 percent in June, up from 8.6 percent in May, according to Cincinnati.com. Manufacturing jobs declined by approximately 3,000 in June, but government jobs diminished more. More than 7,000 were lost last month.

2. Loan program starts in Michigan. Michigan will be the first state eligible for small-business loans given by a federal government program to businesses investing in clean energy or located in economically troubled areas, according to the Associated Press. Details of the plan, part of President Obama’s “Start-Up America” initiative, are expected to be announced this afternoon. The initiative combines private institutional investors and federal funds to invest in targeted companies.

3. Gary, Ind. endures property-tax nightmare. One in three homeowners in Gary, Ind., has missed a property-tax payment. Worse, the city only collects 72.4 percent of its expected revenues, the lowest percentage of any Indiana city. Our partner WBEZ examines a wave of property-tax problems affecting Gary and the consequences of the shortfall, such as keeping police on their beats and providing basic education functions.


Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Michigan starts negotiations. Administrators from Gov. Rick Snyder’s office will begin contract negotiations this week with state workers, who face wage and benefit cuts as Michigan grapples with a budget deficit. According to our partner station Michigan Radio, workers must agree to re-open contracts before negotiations commence. State officials say layoffs are possible should employees not green-light concessions.

2. Ohio’s SB5 faces uphill fight. Voters in the Buckeye State will find a referendum on SB5 on the ballots in November. An early poll shows the controversial state bill that limits collective bargaining rights of public employees faces a formidable challenge. A Quinnipiac poll released this week showed that 56 percent of voters favor repealing the law, while 32 percent believe it should be kept, according to The Plain Dealer of Cleveland.

3. Political divide on Wisconsin rail projects. A proposal for a commuter rail from Milwaukee to Racine and Kenosha could be dropped today. Tomorrow, the Milwaukee Common Council could approve a downtown streetcar line. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports the transportation issue has become a “defining” one for politicians. What comes next in Wisconsin? To some extent, it depends on how people get to work.


Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Michigan starts negotiations. Administrators from Gov. Rick Snyder’s office will begin contract negotiations this week with state workers, who face wage and benefit cuts as Michigan grapples with a budget deficit. According to our partner station Michigan Radio, workers must agree to re-open contracts before negotiations commence. State officials say layoffs are possible should employees not green-light concessions.

2. Ohio’s SB5 faces uphill fight. Voters in the Buckeye State will find a referendum on SB5 on the ballots in November. An early poll shows the controversial state bill that limits collective bargaining rights of public employees faces a formidable challenge. A Quinnipiac poll released this week showed that 56 percent of voters favor repealing the law, while 32 percent believe it should be kept, according to The Plain Dealer of Cleveland.

3. Political divide on Wisconsin rail projects. A proposal for a commuter rail from Milwaukee to Racine and Kenosha could be dropped today. Tomorrow, the Milwaukee Common Council could approve a downtown streetcar line. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports the transportation issue has become a “defining” one for politicians. What comes next in Wisconsin? To some extent, it depends on how people get to work.


Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Wisconsin reports job growth. Citing a resurgent tourism industry, Wisconsin officials reported a gain of 12,900 private-sector jobs from May to June. It’s the largest one-month gain in the Badger state in nearly eight years, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. But the state’s unemployment rate nonetheless ticked upward from 7.4 percent in May to 7.6 percent in June. Gov. Scott Walker noted that Wisconsin’s growth accounted for nearly half of the nation’s job creation.

2. U.S. sells stake in Chrysler. Italian automaker Fiat purchased the U.S. government’s remaining stake in Chrysler on Thursday, a move that ends federal involvement with the automaker. Fiat paid $560 million to the Treasury Department in exchange for its 98,000 shares, according to our partner Michigan Radio. The government had helped rescue the automaker from bankruptcy, with Chrysler receiving $12.5 billion. Of that amount $11.2 has been repaid.

3. Is high-speed rail dead? That’s the opinion of The Urbanophile’s Aaron M. Renn, who argues that a poorly executed federal plan combined with Republican resistance at state levels has crippled the future of high-speed rail in the U.S. More than $8 billion in funds were provided in President Obama’s stimulus package, but major initiatives still aren’t off the ground. “It’s time to take a major gut check on high speed rail in America and re-think the direction,” Renn writes.


Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. SB5 will appear on ballot. Ohio’s controversial collective-bargaining law will be decided by Buckeye State voters in November, according to The Plain Dealer, which first broke the news Thursday afternoon. A group leading the repeal effort needed to submit 231,147 signatures to place the issue on the ballot. They submitted 915,456, the Ohio elections chief told the newspaper.

2. Bills restrict Michigan regulators. Two packages of bills making their way through the Michigan state Legislature would prohibit the governor and other state agencies from making any rule more stringent than federal standards. Only the Legislature would retain that power, according to our partner station Michigan Radio. Critics say the legislation is a power grab, and that Michigan needs strengthened laws to protect resources like the Great Lakes.

3. Ohio ranks worst in air quality. Three Midwestern states ranked among the top seven states in which residents are most at risk from toxic emissions from coal-and-oil power plants, according to a report issued Wednesday. Ohio ranked worst in the nation, while Indiana and Michigan were sixth and seventh, respectively. The study, according to Reuters, was an analysis of 2009 toxic emissions data released by the Environmental Protection Agency last month.