When 60 Years Of Lies Clash With Reality: Michigan Governor Snyder Authorizes Detroit's Bankruptcy
The full letter from Michigan Governor Richard Snyder to Kevyn Orr, the man who just filed Detroit's bankruptcy petition.
Kevyn D. Orr
City of Detroit
Coleman A. Young Municipal Center 2 Woodward Ave., Suite 1126
Detroit, MI 48226
Michigan Department of Treasury 4th Floor Treasury Building
430 W. Allegan Street
Lansing, MI 48992
Re: Authorization to Commence Chapter 9 Bankruptcy Proceeding Dear Mr. Orr and Mr. Dillon,
I have reviewed Mr. Orr's letter of July 16, 2013, requesting my approval of his recommendation to commence a bankruptcy proceeding for the City of Detroit under Chapter 9 of title 11 of the United States Code. As you know, state law requires that any such recommendation must first be approved by the Governor before the emergency manager may take that step. MCL 141.1558. For the reasons discussed below, I hereby approve that recommendation and authorize Mr. Orr to make such a filing.
Current Financial Emergency
In reviewing Mr. Orr's letter, his Financial and Operating Plan, and his report to creditors, it is clear that the financial emergency in Detroit cannot be successfully addressed outside of such a filing, and it is the only reasonable alternative that is available. In other words, the City's financial emergency cannot be satisfactorily rectified in a reasonable period of time absent this filing.
I have reached the conclusion that this step is necessary after a thorough review of all the available alternatives, and I authorize this necessary step as a last resort to return this great City to financial and civic health for its residents and taxpayers. This decision comes in the wake of 60 years of decline for the City, a period in which reality was often ignored. I know many will see this as a low point in the City's history. If so, I think it will also be the foundation of the City's future — a statement I cannot make in confidence absent giving the City a chance for a fresh start, without burdens of debt it cannot hope to fully pay. Without this decision, the City's condition would only worsen. With this decision, we begin to provide a foundation to rebuild and grow Detroit.
Both before and after the appointment of an emergency manager, many talented individuals have put enormous energy into attempting to avoid this outcome. I knew from the outset that it would be difficult to reverse 60 years of decline in which promises were made that did not reflect the reality of the ability to deliver on those promises. I very much hoped those efforts would succeed without resorting to bankruptcy. Unfortunately, they have not. We must face the fact that the City cannot and is not paying its debts as they become due, and is insolvent.
After reading Mr. Orr's letter, the Financial and Operating Plan, and the report to creditors, I have come to four conclusions.
1. Right now, the City cannot meet its basic obligations to its citizens.
2. Right now, the City cannot meet its basic obligations to its creditors.
3. The failure of the City to meet its obligations to its citizens is the primary cause of its inability to meet its obligations to its creditors.
4. The only feasible path to ensuring the City will be able to meet obligations in the future is to have a successful restructuring via the bankruptcy process that recognizes the fundamental importance of ensuring the City can meet its basic obligations to its citizens.
I will explain how I came to each conclusion.
Inability to Meet Obligations to Its Citizens. As Mr. Orr's Financial and Operating Plan and the June 14 Creditor Proposal have noted, the scale and depth of Detroit's problems are unique. The City's unemployment rate has nearly tripled since 2000 and is more than double the national average. Detroit's homicide rate is at the highest level in nearly 40 years, and it has been named as one of the most dangerous cities in America for more than 20 years. Its citizens wait an average of 58 minutes for the police to respond to their calls, compared to a national average of 11 minutes. Only 8.7% of cases are solved, compared to a statewide average of 30.5%. The City's police cars, fire trucks, and ambulances are so old that breakdowns make it impossible to keep up the fleet or properly carry out their roles. For instance, only a third of the City's ambulances were in service in the first quarter of 2013. Similarly, approximately 40% of the City's street lights were not functioning in that quarter and the backlog of complaints is more than 3,300 long. Having large swaths of largely abandoned structures -- approximately 78,000 — creates additional public safety problems and reduces the quality of life in the City. Mr. Orr is correct that meeting the obligations the City has to its citizens to provide basic services requires more revenue devoted to services, not less.
Inability to Meet Obligations to Its Creditors. The City has more than $18 billion in accrued obligations. A vital point in Mr. Orr's letter is that Detroit tax rates are at their current legal limits, and that even if the City was legally able to raise taxes, its residents cannot afford to pay additional taxes. Detroiters already have a higher tax rate than anywhere in Michigan, and even with that revenue the City has not been able to keep up with its basic obligations, both to its citizens and creditors. Detroit simply cannot raise enough revenue to meet its current obligations, and that is a situation that is only projected to get worse absent a bankruptcy filing.
Failure to Meet Obligations to Citizens Creates Failure to Meet Obligations to Creditors. Mr. Orr's letter and prior report put in stark reality the dramatic impact of the City's plummeting population. While many who love Detroit still live there, many other Detroiters at heart could not justify the sacrifice of adequate services. The City's population has declined 63% from its peak, including a 28% decline since 2000. That exodus has brought Detroit to the point that it cannot satisfy promises it made in the past. A decreasing tax base has made meeting obligations to creditors impossible. Mr. Orr is correct when he says the City cannot raise the necessary revenue through tax increases, and it cannot save the necessary revenue through reducing spending on basic services. Attempts to do so would only decrease the population and tax base further, making a new round of promises unfulfillable.
Only One Feasible Path Offers a Way Out. The citizens of Detroit need and deserve a clear road out of the cycle of ever-decreasing services. The City's creditors, as well as its many dedicated public servants, deserve to know what promises the City can and will keep. The only way to do those things is to radically restructure the City and allow it to reinvent itself without the burden of impossible obligations. Despite Mr. Orr's best efforts, he has been unable to reach a restructuring plan with the City's creditors. I therefore agree that the only feasible path to a stable and solid Detroit is to file for bankruptcy protection.
The past weeks have reaffirmed my confidence that Mr. Orr has the right priorities when it comes to the City of Detroit. l am reassured to see his prioritization of the needs of citizens to have improved services. I know we share a concern for the public employees who gave years of service to the City and now fear for their financial future in retirement, and I am confident that all of the City's creditors will be treated fairly in this process. We all believe that the City's future must allow it to make the investment it needs in talent and in infrastructure, all while making only the promises it can keep. Let us remain in close communication regarding measures Mr. Orr might take so we can discuss the possible impacts that might occur both within and outside of the City.
2012 PA 436 provides that my approval of the recommendation to commence a Chapter 9 proceeding may place contingencies on such a filing. MCL 141.1558(1). I am choosing not to impose any such contingencies today. Federal law already contains the most important contingency — a requirement that the plan be legally executable. 11 USC 943(b)(4).
In conclusion, I find Mr. Orr's Recommendation Letter to be persuasive, especially in conjunction with his prior reports laying out the level of services the City can provide and its financial ability to meet its obligations to creditors. I am also convinced that Mr. On has exercised his best efforts to arrive at a restructuring plan with the City's creditors outside of bankruptcy, to no avail. Given these facts, the only feasible path to sustainability for the City of Detroit is a filing under chapter 9 of the bankruptcy code. Therefore, I hereby approve Mr. Orr's recommendation and authorize the emergency manager to make such a filing on behalf of the City of Detroit and to take all actions that are necessary and appropriate toward that end.
Richard D. Snyder Governor
State of Michigan
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