OT: City of Detroit submits Bankruptcy Plan

Submitted by GoWings2008 on February 21st, 2014 at 3:29 PM

Not wanting to get political, but saw this on NBCNews.com.  One thing I liked seeing was this little snippit:

"If police and fire department retirees agree to the plan, they would receive about 90 percent of their pensions..."

From what I'd heard before, there was a fear that these valuable former employees of the city may have ended up with a lot less than 90%.  If this is true, a big win for the city.




February 21st, 2014 at 4:47 PM ^

I'm pointing out what seems to be a clear contradiction: the OP states this is great news that city employees are getting 90% of their pensions, and you don't have an issue with that; another poster says that's not fair given other employees in these situations often settle for less than 50%, and you scold that.  These are flip sides of the same coin (i.e. if the second statement is political, then the first is certainly also).  I don't see how you can come to that conclusion unless your own beliefs are clouding your judgment, allowing you to see nothing wrong in the first, and something wrong in the second.

The OP says Detroit bankruptcy and calls out one element of it.  I don't see a problem with discussing that one element he singled out.  But if you're not comfortable with someone saying he doesn't agree with it, and giving a reason (one I believe is valid - not that I've conceded his argument, but a valid point), then this should probably be taken down.


February 22nd, 2014 at 12:04 AM ^

I've tried extremely hard to take pretty much all emotion out of MGoBoard, and I don't think I've given anyone a reason to believe otherwise. I thought I answered satisfactorially above, in that that's not how I read the OP originally. Joe Schmoe keeping 90% of his pension is good news for Joe Schmoe and his family, I don't feel like that's a political statement (take that logically as far as you want, I still think it's true). If someone suggests it's the good or right thing for Detroit I'm with you on the political element.

I didn't take any kind of mod action against the post I said was an example of what not to do and didn't against the OP, which very well might have been the political statement you think it is.


February 21st, 2014 at 5:19 PM ^

I think the OP is making an inherent value judgement, not by calling former employees valuable, but by stating that them keeping 90% of their pensions is definitely a good thing. There are a lot more interests holding debt in the city, not to mention the current residents and employees, who will be affected, possibly negatively, by how much of the pension debt is paid.


February 21st, 2014 at 4:37 PM ^

Hey, how that Dow Jones Industrial Average?  Sure looks bear-ish as of late.  This volatility is making me think I need to update my portfolio and get out of money market accounts and into a hedge fund.  Buy, sell, junk bond, 401k, divestiture, Leonard DiCaprio.  And I'm spent.


February 21st, 2014 at 3:58 PM ^

They deserve 100% of their pensions. Firefighters and Police Officers sacrificed so much for that city and they deserve what they were promised at the same time they promised to serve and protect their city! Public and private are not even close to the same thing.


February 22nd, 2014 at 2:04 AM ^

That may well be the moral case, but contractually they're unsecured creditors (to the extent of their pensions' underfunding, anyway - i.e. they have an unsecured deficiency claim in addition to the secured claim on any pension assets) and their 90% recovery when secured creditors of the city aren't recovering par is a huge negotiating win for the retirees, even if they don't see it that way.


February 21st, 2014 at 4:05 PM ^

EVERYONE quit bitching about the politics thing. This is a thing ith political implications, but as long as people behave themselves, the thread will be fine. It is of interest to Southeast Michigan, as well as to legal and finance nerds.

And yes, yes, we get it. Retirees are good. Fiscal responsibility is good. Puppies are good.


February 21st, 2014 at 4:22 PM ^

So, I'm a young professional.  The idea of a pension kinda befuddles me.  What entity thinks it is a good idea to promise retirement money at a future date?

It just seems like a crazy and unsustainable idea.  Was there not 401k's back in the day? 

Did people not at all think about saving extra for retirement?


February 21st, 2014 at 4:28 PM ^

I'm a public employee in Ohio, and through OPERS, the pension option seems to be very lucrative.  I chose the employee directed option, which is basically a quasi-401k.  I have a hard time justifying leaving my job for better pay, as they match my 10% with their own 14% of my salary paid into my retirement, and I don't pay social security, either.


February 21st, 2014 at 4:35 PM ^

Back in the day, people worked for the same company for a billion years, and the retirement age was much closer to the average life expectancy, so it wasn't that ridiculous to have a guy work for you for 40 years and pay him for the last 5 to 10-ish years of his life.

And as an FYI, section 401(k) was added to the tax code in 1978.


February 21st, 2014 at 5:53 PM ^

Worth noting that a good sized portion of that increase in life expectancy (~25%) is just from decreasing infant mortality rates.  If you get to the point where you're paying into a pension fund, the gap is still significant but less than the simple glance at life expectancy would tell you.


February 21st, 2014 at 4:46 PM ^

when companies/governments were PROMISED you a pension you didn't have to worry quite as much about your retirement income.  Of course, that was back before everyone realized that the pension funds were going to get raided and that pension "guarantees" weren't worth jack.  I've never had a pension, but my parents did.  It's pretty bad form to promse something to someone for their entire career and then pull it out from under their feet when they retire.  Of course I would never take anything like that now because I know not to trust anyone.  Give me the cash up front or forget about it.  No promises.


February 24th, 2014 at 2:27 PM ^

People believed their EMPLOYERS.  The pensions were given to them by their EMPLOYERS, not by politicians.  They had CONTRACTS.  Poeple believed their contracts couldn't be just ripped up and thrown away.  But they found out the hard way that contracts mean almost nothing.

French West Indian

February 21st, 2014 at 4:54 PM ^

...will promise anything while they are in office, especially if—like pensions—it doesn't hit the bottom line until years into the future.  What's more amazing to me is that anybody would actually believe the promises of politicians and actually expect to get any money out of it in the future.

Anyhow, I'd consider it great news for any retiree of Detroit if they can manage to get 90% of what was promised.  Given the reality of squeezing blood from a stone, that's gotta be considered a win.


February 21st, 2014 at 5:03 PM ^

...until I got one along with a decent matching 401(k).  

In the end, the defined benefit programs (such as pensions) are going away.  Defined contribution programs (such as 401k) are less risky for companies and probably more popular than defined benefit programs.


February 21st, 2014 at 4:54 PM ^

World War II was the genesis of a lot of these benefit items that are making news now . . . lifetime pensions, employer health care, etc.  Wages were frozen, so companies and the public sector competed with non-wage benefits.   By the time the war was over, they had become institutionalized. 

We take them for granted as having always existed, but they are actually an historical aberration.  Now we are struggling to adjust to a new uncharted model.  But it certainly won't be World War 2.0 benefits.



February 21st, 2014 at 5:02 PM ^

A friend works for the PBGC; I asked him about Detroit some time ago.  He made it clear that government entities are not part of their mission.  From Wikipedia:

"...to encourage the continuation and maintenance of voluntary private defined benefit pension plans" - key word "private".

While I haven't lived in Michigan in years, I wish only the best for the city and those who work/ed there.





February 21st, 2014 at 5:14 PM ^

More money for pensions for retirees means less money for the people and infrastructure taking care of Detroit today.

It's certainly good news for the retired workers, bit is it the best for the future of Detroit? That's a harder question. Will Detroit learn from this lesson and be more responsible with how it promises and protects worker benefits in the future? That's the real rub.


February 21st, 2014 at 5:22 PM ^

I should also add that there are a lot of other people holding debt in the city, and they aren't all mustache twirling plutocrats. The more you give to pensioners, the less you give to creditors - and the less likely they'll be to ever invest in Detroit again.

That's why this is so complicated, and so painful.


February 21st, 2014 at 6:02 PM ^

It is a complicated issue that faces all of us. There are no good answers. It is really crummy for retirees who were "promised" something. The worst factor is when there were payroll deductions or the like, and the funds that were deducted from pay were misused or abused by those in power.

I myself am pretty sceptical about trusting any government or employer entities, so I have chosen to personally invest in a several 401k and 403b accounts, Roth IRA's, have a defined benefit pension, have a defined contribution account, all above and beyond Social Security, and not counting my wife's retirement income. If all of them work out, great. If the pension benefits or Social Security benefits change negatively, well, those are the least important parts of the basket. What I particularly dislike with pensions and Social Security is that principal doesn't revert to whatever entity you choose, but stays with the employer or government. While my income isn't huge, living sacrificially and setting aside for the future should mean that it will all work out, provided the whole country and financial system doesn't implode. What happened in Detroit should be a cautionary tale for everyone. I have a greater appreciation for those who kept precious metals, gems, and cash in their own storage, rather than having all their assets in paper accounts that could just vanish.