Detroit Bankruptcy – Pensions Aren’t Protected From Cuts

Retirees like Gwendolyn Beasley, 67 years old, who worked 34 years for Detroit as a library clerk has an annual pension of $13,085. Ms. Beasley’s pension could be decimated in the very near future.

A judge declared Detroit eligible for bankruptcy and ruled that pensions aren’t protected from potential cuts. Five months after the city filed for Chapter 9 protection, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes said Detroit was entitled to reorganize under bankruptcy law, describing his ruling as a “fresh start” for the city.

Judge Rhodes said Detroit’s public pension holders aren’t entitled to special protection from potential cuts – despite a Michigan state constitutional provision aimed at shielding pensions. “Pension rights are contract rights under the Michigan constitution” and contracts are at risk for cuts under federal bankruptcy law.

Detroit plans on unveiling a proposal in January 2014 to restructure its estimated $18 billion in long-term debt, which makes it the largest-ever municipal bankruptcy in U.S. History.

The city’s unfunded pension liability has been estimated at between $3.5 billion and $8 billion.  The pension funds would undoubtedly receive only a fraction of what they are owed. The pension cuts will have a devastating on city employees and retirees who hoped state law would protect their pensions.