What Bled Detroit Dry? (It's Not Pensions)

December 18, 2013 | | CNN |

A judge's ruling that the city of Detroit can move forward with bankruptcy and strip the city's public workers of their modest pension benefits will have a devastating impact on Detroit's middle class — many of whom are African-American — and the city's ability to rebuild a strong and sustainable economy.

The largest municipal bankruptcy in our nation's history, the Detroit decision charts a course where Wall Street banks and bondholders are at the front of the payment line while city residents, police officers, firefighters and other public employees are left at the rear, with only pennies.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and Orr, a former corporate bankruptcy lawyer, frequently cited the figure of Detroit's $18 billion in long-term debt as the reason the city must declare bankruptcy. According to a recent report, "The Detroit Bankruptcy," written by former Goldman Sachs investment banker Wallace Turbeville, not only is $18 billion an inflated and inaccurate estimation of Detroit's long-term debt, it is irrelevant. Unlike corporations, cities cannot be liquidated, therefore cash flow, as opposed to long-term debt, is what must be addressed.Kevyn Orr, Detroit's unelected emergency manager, misled the public and succeeded in setting a dangerous precedent that will have ripple effects for other cities and states still struggling to get back on their feet in the post-recession economy.

Detroit has a cash-flow shortfall of $198 million. Despite the blame placed on public pensions, the truth is that Detroit's path to insolvency had little or nothing to do with pensions, which average just $19,000 per year for most employees and $30,000 per year for police and firefighters, who are not eligible to receive Social Security.