The city’s proposals, which could give some bondholders as little as 10 cents on the dollar, are making some creditors think they would be better off in bankruptcy. They see the specter of a federal judge imposing involuntary losses as less ominous than it was for New York.…But city retirees, facing the prospect of sharply reduced benefits whether in bankruptcy or under Detroit’s restructuring proposal, think they stand squarely on the moral high ground because despite the poverty of many current and retired members, they have already offered big concessions.“It’s not the employees that are costing the city money,” said Edward L. McNeil, an official with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees who is leading a coalition of 33 unions that will be affected by any restructuring of Detroit’s debts, which total roughly $17 billion.
Unions seem determined to fight municipal bond market investors over who should shoulder the burden for Detroit’s debts, setting up a lose-lose situation for blue politics.If the unions win, it could lead to an implosion in the municipal bond market across the country as lenders realize that money lent to struggling cities may never be paid back. As Walsh notes, this outcome would upend standards that “such bonds are among the safest investments and that for ‘general obligation’ bonds cities could even be compelled to raise taxes, if that’s what it took to make good.” This would be disastrous for other cities, which would find it much harder to borrow money, and would likely need to pay exorbitant interest rates to do so.If the unions lose, however, it would deal a major blow to support from their own members. Detroit’s pensioners would begin to wonder why they pay dues to a union that can’t guarantee the pensions or benefits they were promised. A similar dynamic all but destroyed unions in the private sector as striking union members saw their jobs shipped away to China.The stakes are high in Detroit’s looming legal battles, but the results will rock the blue model to its core no matter where the dominoes fall.[Detroit image courtesy of Shutterstock]