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CDO woes no mo’ Five Wisconsin school districts have settled a lawsuit with an investment firm over the sale of collateralized debt obligations. The school districts say the firm sold them CDOs without disclosing the risks involved. The districts will get $22 million from the firm, according to the Wall Street Journal. And they won’t have to pay the $154 million they still owe the firm.

Et tu legislature? Ohio governor John Kasich’s plan to tax oil and gas companies seems to be stalled in the state legislature. Partner station WCPN Ideastream reports that Kasich’s own Republican colleagues are the reason for the holdup.

No protest permit Partner station WBEZ reports the city of Chicago has turned down a permit request from people who plan to protest the upcoming NATO summit. The city had previously approved a permit for the same protest route one day earlier. Protesters asked to switch the day after the G-8 summit was canceled in the city.

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.

Vote vote vote If you live in Illinois, it’s primary day. Here’s a guide, from partner station WBEZ.

A hydraulic fracturing operation near Malvern, Ohio. Credit: flickr user Chiot's Run.

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.

Tuesday, Chesapeake Energy announced plans for a $900 million plant to process all the oil and gas it’s pulling out of Ohio’s shale formations. So the boom times have already begun.

And yesterday, governor Kasich said he wants Ohioans to get a cut of all the profits from this new industry.

The Cincinnati Enquirer quoted Kasich:

“If Ohioans aren’t benefiting, then some shareholder in Texas will benefit. There’s gold in them thar hills. How much gold, we’re not sure. But I’d rather be sharing the wealth with Ohioans than investors living elsewhere.”

So, Kasich plans to impose new taxes on oil and gas drilling in Ohio (though small producers get an exemption), and 100 percent of what the government collects will go back to Ohioans in the form of tax breaks. The governor’s office estimates the oil and gas taxes will generate between $900 million and $1 billion in five years. The tax breaks will go to people in every income bracket, though the specifics have yet to be announced.

One complication to the plan is that it means Ohioans’ tax rates will fluctuate year-to-year, depending on how much money the energy companies make.

And, of course, the energy companies don’t like the idea much.

In a statement, the Ohio Oil and Gas Association says:

“Crude oil and natural gas exploration in the state is still in its infancy and increasing the severance tax at this critical juncture will negatively impact the economic future of Ohio and its residents. For this reason, we oppose a tax increase of any kind, particularly one targeting an emerging industry.”

Kasich says the new taxes will be competitive with other states. He’s also proposing new regulations on the industry, to try to address some of the environmental concerns it creates. Among other things, the industry will have to disclose all of the chemicals it uses in the fracking process. And the governor says some areas will be off limits to drilling.

Many of the proposals in Kasich’s “Mid-biennial” review will have to get approval from the state legislature before they go into effect.

Fracking taxes Ohio governor John Kasich unveiled a plan yesterday that would increase taxes, and regulations, on the growing number of oil and gas drilling projects in the state. BusinessWeek says the higher taxes would raise $1 billion in revenue by 2016. Partner station WCPN Ideastream says the new revenue will offset an income tax cut for Ohioans.

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.

No consent Tuesday, the State of Michigan offered leaders in Detroit a consent agreement to allow a new panel to solve the city’s budget crisis. Now, the Detroit Free Press reports the city is working on a counter-proposal, while the Associated Press says a “war of words” has broken out between the mayor and the governor.

Starting up startups The Wall Street Journal takes a look at Chicago’s growing scene for startups. But the paper finds Chicago still has a long way to go to compete with New York or Silicon Valley for startup money.

Keeping up with foreclosures Chicago foreclosure filings spiked upward in February, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. The Columbus Dispatch says filings were also up in Ohio, though they’re down quite a bit compared to a year ago. And partner station Michigan Radio reports foreclosure filings were down in Michigan for the month.

Prison time Rod Blagojevich reports to prison today. Partner station WBEZ has the story.

Fracking taxes Ohio governor John Kasich unveiled a plan yesterday that would increase taxes, and regulations, on the growing number of oil and gas drilling projects in the state. BusinessWeek says the higher taxes would raise $1 billion in revenue by 2016. Partner station WCPN Ideastream says the new revenue will offset an income tax cut for Ohioans.

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.

No consent Tuesday, the State of Michigan offered leaders in Detroit a consent agreement to allow a new panel to solve the city’s budget crisis. Now, the Detroit Free Press reports the city is working on a counter-proposal, while the Associated Press says a “war of words” has broken out between the mayor and the governor.

Starting up startups The Wall Street Journal takes a look at Chicago’s growing scene for startups. But the paper finds Chicago still has a long way to go to compete with New York or Silicon Valley for startup money.

Keeping up with foreclosures Chicago foreclosure filings spiked upward in February, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. The Columbus Dispatch says filings were also up in Ohio, though they’re down quite a bit compared to a year ago. And partner station Michigan Radio reports foreclosure filings were down in Michigan for the month.

Prison time Rod Blagojevich reports to prison today. Partner station WBEZ has the story.

Taxing the fracking Bloomberg reports that Ohio Gov. John Kasich has a new proposal to tax oil and gas drilling in his state. Taxes on the new kinds of drilling, known as “fracking,” could raise $1.02 billion for the state by 2016, according to the report.

$1 billion for manufacturing President Obama plans to be in Virginia today to promote a new $1 billion grant program to fund innovation in manufacturing. The plan requires approval from Congress.

Turning it around Wisconsin added jobs last month. But previous months’ figures were revised, creating a more mixed jobs picture.

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.

Lower funds for higher ed Michigan is losing about $4 million in federal higher education funds. The loss is because the state cut its own budget for higher education, according to the Gannett news service.


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.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker

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.”

That sounds almost word for word what Michigan’s Republican governor, Rick Snyder, says about a Right to Work law, which would prevent unions from collecting mandatory dues when employees decline to join.

Lawmakers in Michigan are proposing Right to Work legislation, but Snyder says it is a divisive issue,  adding it isn’t appropriate in Michigan in 2012. He says the issue could distract from his agenda of fixing the state’s economy.

Ohio’s Republican governor, John Kasich, whose efforts to eliminate public employee bargaining rights were overturned by voters, also has said Right to Work is not on his to-do list, although lawmakers have proposed the measure there, too.

Walker acknowledges he supported Right to Work when he was in the Wisconsin legislature. In the Atlantic interview, he goes on to say that “private-sector unions have been our partner in the economic revival we’ve had in this state. A bigger issue is the impact the public-sector unions have had on the taxpayers. And that’s essentially what we have in Wisconsin — right-to-work in the public sector.”

Walker may be trying to seem more moderate, since he is likely to face a recall election. His opponents collected more than 1 million signatures in an effort to put the matter on the ballot. Once the signatures are counted, an election could be held this spring,


Wisconsin woes Changing Gears’ Niala Boodhoo has the second in a two-part report on how life has changed for public workers in Wisconsin, a year after the labor battle began. In today’s story, she reports that police officers and firefighters, who were originally meant to be exempt from the state’s cuts, are still feeling the pain.

Another deal, another vote The United Steelworkers has another tentative contract with the Timken Co. for workers at a plant near Canton, Ohio. Workers turned down the last agreement. If they approve this one, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports the company says it will make a $225 million investment to upgrade the plant.

State of the speech Partner station WCPN Ideastream reports Ohio Governor John Kasich focused on the economy during his State of the State speech last night.

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.

A novel class Chicago Police officers are getting a chance to try out a different profession: novelist. According to The New York Times, the police department has started offering voluntary writing classes for officers.


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.

Tech jobs Chicago is landing more tech jobs, mostly in the digital advertising sector, reports Crain’s Chicago.

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.

A pickle of a plant A plant in Detroit that once made auto parts is about to start making pickles.

Here’s hoping you never have to use it A couple of Clevelanders are launching a new startup company: eFunerals.com.


Layoffs at Abbott North-Chicago based Abbott Laboratories is laying off 700 workers in the U.S. and Canada. The Chicago Tribune reports 200 layoffs will be at the company’s campus in Lake County, Ill.

Don’t call it a comeback One analyst predicts the auto industry will add 15,000 jobs this year. But the Detroit Free Press reports that still won’t come anywhere close to replacing the jobs that were lost.

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.”