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Sunday, July 21, 2013 1:22 PM

Idiocy vs. Common Sense in Detroit; Judge Rules Bankruptcy Invalid; What's Next?

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On Friday, a Michigan Circuit Judge Rosemarie Aquilina ruled Detroit bankruptcy is unconstitutional.

On Friday, a circuit court judge in Ingham County ruled that Detroit's federal bankruptcy filing violated a part of Michigan's constitution that protects union pensions. She ordered it withdrawn, a day after Detroit became the largest U.S. city in history to file for chapter nine bankruptcy.

Judge Rosemary Aquilina also said the filing did not honor President Barack Obama's work for the city, who she said "took [Detroit's auto companies] out of bankruptcy." Aquilina said she would send a copy of her order to Obama.

“It’s cheating, sir, and it’s cheating good people who work,” the judge told assistant Attorney General Brian Devlin. “It’s also not honoring the (United States) president, who took (Detroit’s auto companies) out of bankruptcy.”

The Detroit News reported "attorneys representing the pension boards hurried into Aquilina’s court to ask for a restraining order" on July 18, but Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) and Detroit's emergency manager Kevin Orr "beat them by a few minutes" in filing for bankruptcy. The filing did not deter lawyers for union pension boards, who can use "court maneuvers to slow down federal bankruptcy proceedings."

The whole point of bankruptcy court is to resolve debt issues that cannot be paid. It is impossible for Detroit to meet its pension obligations and the only way to resolve the issue is in bankruptcy court.

Common Sense

In a common sense position, Michigan Governor Says Detroit’s Bondholders Part of Bankruptcy
Governor Rick Snyder of Michigan said today that the bondholders of the city of Detroit should expect to be “part of the process” of the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history

“Realistically, if you step back, if you were lending to the city of Detroit in the last few years, didn’t you understand there were major issues and problems?” Snyder, a Republican, said on the CBS’s “Face the Nation” today. “Look at the yields they’re obtaining compared to other bonds. They were getting a premium.”

The plight of city pensioners is “one of the other tragic situations” in the Detroit bankruptcy, Snyder said on CBS. He said that during discussions with creditors, “no one” wanted to represent retirees, so he has asked the federal judge in the case to assemble a group of retirees to speak for them.

Pension Funding

“Short-term through the end of the year, there won’t be any change,” Snyder said. “Beyond that, the real question also is, to the degree those pension plans are funded, that they’re our assets, that they are not part of this process.”

“It’s the unfunded piece, and there’s a terrible history there of mismanagement and poor investment that should get aired out in public and should be part of this discussion,” Snyder said on CBS.
In contrast to the idiotic circuit court ruling, the statements by governor Snyder represent a fresh breath of common sense.

1. Bondholders knowingly took risks so they must take a haircut.
2. The funded assets of the pension plan cannot be touched
3. Bankruptcy court will resolve the unfunded portion

What's not to like about that?

And in regards to point number three, I would hope the burden falls on the highest pension beneficiaries (most likely city officials, police, firefighters) but also taking into account length of service, rather than something like 50% haircuts across the board.

What's Next?

I expect the circuit court ruling will be overturned with prejudice, the pension plans will take a huge haircut, boldholders will take some haircut, and the overall fairness of the final decision as to how pension haircuts will be applied is up in the air.

Many other cities will follow Detroit's lead.

Mike "Mish" Shedlock

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