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City of Detroit files for Chapter 9 bankruptcy
The City of Detroit is in final preparations to file for federal bankruptcy as early as Friday morning, several sources told the Free Press today.
The filing would begin a 30- to 90-day period that will determine whether the city is eligible for Chapter 9 protection and define how many claimants might compete for the limited settlement resources that Detroit has to offer. The bankruptcy petition would seek protection from creditors and unions who are renegotiating $18.5 billion in debt and other liabilities.
Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr, who in June released a plan to restructure the city's debt and obligations that would leave many creditors with much less than they are owed, has warned consistently that if negotiations hit an impasse, he would move quickly to seek bankruptcy protection.
Gov. Rick Snyder would have to sign off on the filing. A spokeswoman did not immediately return telephone calls today.
Orr’s spokesman Bill Nowling would not confirm today that the filing is imminent. However, he said, “Pension boards, insurers, it's clear that if you're suing us, your response is ‘no.’ We still have other creditors we continue to have meetings with, other stakeholders who are trying to find a solution here, because they recognize that, at the end of the day, we have to have a city that can provide basic services to its 700,000 residents.”
This week, the city’s two pension funds (which have claims to $9.2 billion in unfunded pension and retiree health care liabilities) filed suit in state court to prevent Orr from slashing retiree benefits as part of a bankruptcy restructuring.
Ambac Assurance Guaranty, which insures some of the city's general obligation bonds, has also objected to Orr's plan to treat those bonds as “unsecured,” meaning they're not tied directly to a revenue stream and would receive pennies on the dollar of their value. Ambac, and other creditors, have threatened to file suit.
Sources agree that Orr’s deal with creditors, widely reported to be Bank of America Corp. and UBS AG, to pay a $344-million swap with a $255-million debtor-in-possession loan, is instrumental in the timing of the potential bankruptcy filing.
The deal gives the city access to $11 million a month in casino tax revenues that Orr has said is key to maintaining city services while negotiations, in or out of bankruptcy court, take their course with other creditors and unions.
Detroit’s would be by far the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history, in terms of the city’s population of about 700,000 and the amount of its debts and liabilities, which Orr has said could be as high as $20 billion. Because of the stakes involved, and the impact on residents statewide, as well as 30,000 current and retired city workers and Detroit’s ability to stay in business, the case could be precedent setting in the federal judiciary. It could also set an important trajectory for the way troubled cities nationwide settle their financial difficulties.
Bernstein noted that Orr has said repeatedly his office would “negotiate with creditors until and unless we find that the negotiations won’t bear fruit, with the understanding that the city has a limited amount of time” for those talks.