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It’s tax time, and today is the last day before the filing deadline. If you spent your weekend filling out your tax forms, you have come face-to-face with your 2011 finances. Now is a time for reflection and reckoning – it’s also a time for planning. What will this year look like for you?

Credit: Flikr user 401k

Over the next two weeks, Changing Gears will be sharing stories about how people are planning ahead in a tough economy, and how their expectations have changed in light of the recession.

You can read some of the stories about changing expectations on our tumblr page: http://chgears.tumblr.com.

You can also tell us about your own experiences. How are you planning for what comes next? Are you coming up on a milestone like retirement, marriage, or a new career? How have your plans changed since the start of the recession? Follow this link to share your story.

Changing Gears is collecting stories about how people are planning ahead in a tough economy, and we’d like your help. What’s on your mind as you plan for what comes next?

Tax forms shelved at a US Post Office. Credit: stevendepolo / Flikr

You can follow this link to share your thoughts.

We want to hear from you – whether you’re planning for retirement, saving for a home, sending kids to college, or just starting a career. If you’re retired, have you had to make some adjustments?

Are things different from what you expected? Tell us what kinds of choices you’re making.


Yesterday, we told you about a program in Detroit that’s meant to keep homes occupied.

Now we’d like to know how you feel about it. Should cities cut deals in order to keep homes occupied?

Vacant homes in Detroit. Photo: Mary's Detroit Photoblog

We’re especially interested in views from home owners all over the Great Lakes.

Some people have struggled during the to pay their taxes (or have stopped paying them completely). Others dutifully write their checks.

If you don’t own a home, we’d like to hear your views. Would you be inclined to buy a property if you could get it for a super-low price, like Detroit’s $500 deals?

Please weigh in with your thoughts, and we’ll summarize them in a future story.


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.


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.


Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel unveiled his first budget today, tackling a $635 million deficit, and the city’s visitors and drivers are among those who would pay more.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel/Micki Maynard

The mayor had vowed not to raise property taxes or the city’s sales tax. But the budget, which the mayor outlined to city council, includes a proposal to raise the city’s hotel tax by 1 percent, or about $1.78 to the average visitor.

Although the increase itself isn’t likely to deter many visitors, Chicago has seen tourism drop, especially among people who come in from the suburbs for the day.

They may not be happy with another one of the mayor’s proposals: a $2 a day, week day congestion tax at garages downtown and in the city’s River North neighborhood.

Emanuel’s budget also takes aim at the city’s drivers, who are required to purchase a registration sticker. The price of a sticker for trucks and sport utilities would rise to $134 a year, from $120, although the price for a small car would remain at $75.

Anyone who is caught driving while intoxicated would see their fine double, while Emanuel also proposes doubling the fine for driving with an illegal weapon. 

Two other proposals are receiving attention in Chicago. One would combine the city’s police and fire headquarters, making Chicago the first mayor city in the country to do so, he said. The mayor has already announced plans to put 1,100 officers back on the street from desk jobs.

And, Emanuel is proposing an increase in residents’ water bills, which he said would be equal to the cost of five cups of coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts. (Assuming he means the 20 ounce cup, which sells for $1.95, that would be about $9.75 extra a year.) Even so, Emanuel said rates in Chicago would be the lowest among major cities in the Great Lakes.

Do you live in Chicago? What are your views on the mayor’s budget proposal?


If owning an NFL franchise has ever been a dream, here’s your chance.

The Green Bay Packers will hold a stock sale by the end of the season to raise money for $130 million in renovations at Lambeau Field. The NFL’s only publicly owned franchise expects each share will cost approximately $200 and include voting rights.

Stock owners can attend annual meetings at Lambeau, among other perks. But the value of the shares would not appreciate and there would be no dividends, according to the Associated Press, which first reported the upcoming sale. The stock sale would be the fifth in the team’s history.  Currently, 112,205 shareholders own a total of 4.75 million shares. The Packers have been a publicly owned nonprofit corporation since 1923.

At least among professional sports franchises, the stock sale represents an unorthodox way to raise funds for a new venue or improvements to existing ones.

Across the Midwest, many cities have used taxpayer dollars to finance construction of NFL stadiums. Cincinnati spent $403 million on Paul Brown Stadium, which opened in 2000. Cleveland taxpayers spent $241 million on Browns Stadium, according to The Wall Street Journal. In Chicago, approximately $387 million of public money was used to finance a Soldier Field overhaul that cost $587 million.

That’s one reason that Michael Constantine, a Wisconsin native, approves of the way the Packers are raising money for a Lambeau Field renovation.

“I feel like the American public has spent enough over the last 20,30 years to build and renovate stadiums,” he tells the AP. “I prefer the sale of stock to raising any sales tax.”


Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Unemployment rate unchanged. American’s unemployment rate remained unchanged at 9.1 percent in September even as the economy added 103,000 jobs, the U.S. Labor Department announced Friday. Among those struggling to find work, more than 1 in 4 respondents to a Rutgers University survey said they are opposed to a renewal of extended unemployment benefits. An extension proposal is part of President Obama’s jobs bill, according to The New York Times, which explored the sentiments of the unemployed. Theresa Gorski, a pharmaceutical rep from Detroit, tells the newspaper she once shared skepticism about prolonged benefits, but after 17 months of unemployment, her views have changed.

2. Software chief: Michigan needs more education. For Michigan companies, a strong education base is more important than lower taxes. That’s the opinion of Bill Wagner, co-founder of Ann Arbor, Mich.-based software firm SRT Solutions, who writes the dismantling of education throughout the state has painted a grim picture to prospective global employers in an AnnArbor.com op-ed published today. He believes budget cuts have harmed the state’s education infrastructure, and that savings from reduced business taxes, among other things, amount to less money than his company spent last year on a summer intern.

3. Sara Lee may move headquarters. The headquarters of Sara Lee has only been based in Downers Grove, Ill. for six years. Its’ already looking to move. Our partner station WBEZ reports the company is exploring a move within Illinois, possibly to downtown Chicago or another suburb. “We do believe that a downtown location would provide our new North American Meat Co. with an environment that will be energetic, that will foster breakthrough thinking,” a company spokesperson told WBEZ. Sara Lee currently employs 1,000 workers in Downers Grove.

 

 


Three stories making news across the Midwest today:

1. Unemployment rate unchanged. American’s unemployment rate remained unchanged at 9.1 percent in September even as the economy added 103,000 jobs, the U.S. Labor Department announced Friday. Among those struggling to find work, more than 1 in 4 respondents to a Rutgers University survey said they are opposed to a renewal of extended unemployment benefits. An extension proposal is part of President Obama’s jobs bill, according to The New York Times, which explored the sentiments of the unemployed. Theresa Gorski, a pharmaceutical rep from Detroit, tells the newspaper she once shared skepticism about prolonged benefits, but after 17 months of unemployment, her views have changed.

2. Software chief: Michigan needs more education. For Michigan companies, a strong education base is more important than lower taxes. That’s the opinion of Bill Wagner, co-founder of Ann Arbor, Mich.-based software firm SRT Solutions, who writes the dismantling of education throughout the state has painted a grim picture to prospective global employers in an AnnArbor.com op-ed published today. He believes budget cuts have harmed the state’s education infrastructure, and that savings from reduced business taxes, among other things, amount to less money than his company spent last year on a summer intern.

3. Sara Lee may move headquarters. The headquarters of Sara Lee has only been based in Downers Grove, Ill. for six years. Its’ already looking to move. Our partner station WBEZ reports the company is exploring a move within Illinois, possibly to downtown Chicago or another suburb. “We do believe that a downtown location would provide our new North American Meat Co. with an environment that will be energetic, that will foster breakthrough thinking,” a company spokesperson told WBEZ. Sara Lee currently employs 1,000 workers in Downers Grove.