Retirees in Bankrupt Detroit Told They Will Have to Make Concessions

July 22, 2013 - 8:07 AM

Detroit Bankruptcy-When a City Goes Broke

This Oct. 24, 2012 file photo shows an empty field north of Detroit's downtown. Detroit, which on Thursday, July 18, 2013, filed the largest municipal bankruptcy case in American history, owes as much as $20 billion to banks, bondholders and pension funds. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, File)

(CNSNews.com) - A bankruptcy filing is the only way to resolve Detroit's financial problems, especially the billions of dollars in unfunded pensions for city workers,  the city's emergency manager Kevyn Orr told "Fox News Sunday."

"There are going to be some adjustments," he said, referring to benefit cuts.

Orr said more than $9 billion of Detroit's $18-billion-plus debt is unfunded pensions ($3.5 billion) and health benefits ($5.7 billion).

"We're going to have a dialogue with the pension funds about what we can do. There are two different funds -- police and fire and general services. And they may have different levels of funding. And all we're talking about in this restructuring is the unfunded component of those pension funds.

"It's significant some of money. Make no mistake about it, and there have to be concessions. Maybe different for each fund, and they're going to be focused on the unfunded portion."

Orr said he's "highly sensitive" to pensioners' feelings because his mother is one of them:

"First of all, I'm empathetic about the problem. What I also say (to city retirees) is, we don't have a choice. We've crossed the Rubicon on the level -- we have $18 plus billion -- $18 billion to $19 billion dollars in debt and no funding mechanism for it. So, this is a question of necessity."

Orr said he assumes there will be no federal bailout of the city: "We are not expecting the cavalry to come charging in. We are out here on outpost and we have to fix it because we dug the hole. And that's the assumption that we are operating on, on how we're going forward."

Orr said the city itself created the problem over many years, and he listed the causes as borrowing, unfunded obligations, an "addiction" to debt, and corruption.

And While Detroit "has a responsibility to help itself," Orr said it would be "great" if the city "gets other assistance."

But Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder says he does not think Detroit will get a federal bailout: "I don't expect one," he told CBS's "Face the Nation." And he said there will be no state bailout, either: "[I]t's not about just putting more money in a situation; it's about better services to citizens. Again, it's about accountable government."

Snyder said he views Detroit's bankruptcy filing as an "opportunity to stabilize Detroit and grow Detroit."

And while Detroit's $18-billion debt must be addressed, Snyder said the most important thing "is accountability to the citizens of Detroit. They're not getting the services they deserve, and they haven't for a very long time."

Snyder called it "tragic" that city retirees may lose some of their income. But at least they'll have a "voice at the table," he promised.

"During the process that we've been going through, about talking to creditors, no one wanted to represent the retirees. So proactively, in the bankruptcy petition we put in, we've asked the judge to put together a group of retirees -- someone to represent the retirees so they can have a voice at the table; we can hear from them.

Snyder said the the city already is partnering with the state and the federal government to tear down abandoned buildings and houses.

"We are able to obtain a hundred million dollars that, hopefully, within the next 30 days, we'll start deploying these dollars towards taking some of those 78,000 abandoned structures down."

Detroit's Emergency Manger Orr was asked what advice he would give to other cities that have made promises they can't keep, Orr said his focus is on Detroit: "What I would say, though, is, you know, delay doesn't produce positive outcomes. So, whatever the problems are, deal with them, have the political will, the wherewithal, to deal with them now, which is exactly what we're doing."