A critical summer for bankruptcy case

By Ed White
Associated Press

DETROIT (AP) — Nearly a year after filing the largest public bankruptcy in U.S. history, Detroit has put its exit plan in the hands of creditors, especially 32,000 retirees and current and former workers.

Here’s a look at where things stand:


Tens of thousands of creditors in different classes have until July 11 to vote on the city’s proposed cure, but eyes mostly are on retirees whose modest pensions, averaging $19,000 a year, would be cut by 4.5 percent. They would also lose annual cost-of-living payments. Police and fire retirees, whose separate pension fund is healthier, would see only a small cost-of-living cut.

If the pension changes are approved, a surge of outside cash — $816 million — would flow from foundations, philanthropists and the state of Michigan to prevent any deeper cuts and protect city-owned art at the Detroit Institute of Arts. If the pension changes are defeated, the money disappears and cuts would be drastic.

Creditors don’t get the final word in approving or rejecting a bankruptcy exit. Judge Steven Rhodes plans to hold a multi-day trial, starting July 24. His job is to determine whether the plan is “feasible” and in the best interest of creditors. The judge has his own experts to advise him. Rhodes can force the entire plan on creditors, from Wall Street to Main Street, even if they don’t like what Detroit is proposing. To trigger “cram down,” he needs only one class of creditors to vote in favor.

Michigan’s constitution says a pension earned in a public job can’t be harmed. But Rhodes in December said there’s no such protection in bankruptcy — the most significant decision so far. It shifted momentum to the city and led to a series of closed-door talks to reach a compromise with retirees, unions and pension funds. State Attorney General Bill Schuette believes Rhodes is wrong, but he’ll drop a legal challenge at a federal appeals court if retirees vote to take the hit.