In what is now the country’s largest public bankruptcy, the city of Detroit has filed for Chapter 9 bankruptcy. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, who filed for the protection along with Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr, said that that there was no other alternative.
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At a joint news conference held by the two men, Snyder spoke about the need to bring to a halt to the city’s 60-year decline. He noted that 38% of Detroit’s budget is going to debt service, pensions, and other “legacy costs.” He also said 40% of street lights don’t work and, unlike the police response time national average of 11 minutes, the city’s police take nearly an hour to show up.
Detroit’s total liabilities are about $18 billion. Orr has already stopped paying about $2 billion of the city’s debt. His reorganization plan involves reducing $11.5 billion in debt to $2 billion, with retirees and investors getting just 17% of what is due to them.
According to CNN, public employee unions are expected to oppose the filing. They contend that Detroit did not exhibit good faith negotiation and it should not be able to get out of commitments it made to retirees and employees.
Needless to say, city employees and retirees won’t be happy if any of their pension benefits are cut. While the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corp. will usually intervene to offer minimum benefits when employees of a business that has gone bankrupt lose the pensions promised to them, the federal agency isn’t responsible for pensions in the public sector.
Deals are also in the works for the city to potentially pay bond holders Bank of America (BAC) and Merrill Lynch (MER) 75 cents on the dollar—that’s close to $340 million in secured debt, report some sources.
The Wall Street Journal says that per media reports and public filings, while it is not known at this time which of the city’s assets would have to be sold, possible contenders include a Van Gogh painting, the Detroit Zoo, Fort Wayne, or even all its assets.
Orr plans for the bankruptcy to be completed by the “summer or fall” of 2013. The process could cost Detroit hundreds of million dollars in financial and legal expenses.
Detroit’s bankruptcy filing will likely cause reverberations. Bankruptcies could make it harder for towns and cities to raise the funds to construct schools, bridges, and other infrastructures. Individual investor-held municipal bonds could also take a hit.
Chapter 9 Bankruptcy Per the US Courts website, Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection is for municipalities. It enables them to come up with a plan so they can deal with their debts. It is up to a city or its to decide whether to liquidate its assets.
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