December 31, 2019
Good Morning! In this morning’s eBlog, we consider the remarkable fiscal recovery of Detroit via its so-called “Grand Bargain,” before we jet south to try to elude winter’s cold in the U.S. Territory of Puerto Rico.
The Fall & Rise of the Motor City. The first decade of the 2000s in Detroit ended with a financial reckoning for hometown automakers General Motors and Chrysler Group as they went through swift bankruptcy reorganizations and got federal bailouts. The second decade of the 2000s in Detroit was in many ways defined by the financial reckoning at Detroit’s City Hall, its public school district and, to a lesser extent, Wayne County. Neighborhood abandonment and blight in the first decade of this century led to the loss of more than a quarter-million Detroit residents, accelerating an already dwindling property tax base, emptying out schools and storefronts and leaving the city services more reliant on income and gambling taxes. The city of Detroit’s fiscal problems came to a head in the spring of 2012 when then-Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration declared a financial emergency in Michigan’s largest city, leading to a consent agreement with then-Mayor Dave Bing and City Council, which resisted the state’s takeover. In March of 2013, with the consent agreement failing and the city inching closer to insolvency, Former Governor Rick Snyder hired Jones Day bankruptcy attorney Kevyn Orr to serve as Detroit’s emergency manager, effectively sidelining former Mayor Bing and the Detroit City Council; by the following July, Mr. Orr, on the 18th, filed in the U.S. bankruptcy Court for the largest chapter 9 municipal bankruptcy in American history, with $18 billion in debt.
Detroit’s bankruptcy revolved around the city’s inability to deliver basic services because of legacy costs stemming from a $1.4 billion bad pension debt deal from former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s era and budget-busting pension and retiree health care costs. The city’s creditors wanted a fire sale on priceless city-owned art at the Detroit Institute of Art—a world-renowned collection borne from Detroit’s automotive heyday in the first half of the 20th Century. In an effort to resolve the chapter 9 municipal bankruptcy quickly and establish the fiscal foundation for a fiscal rebound, the parties reached a so-called “grand bargain,” one in which philanthropic foundations and the State of Michigan pooled together a $816 million commitment to partially address Detroit’s imperiled pension obligations, in key part to ensure that no retiree would fall below the poverty line, in exchange for shielding the city’s first-class art collection at the Detroit Art Institute from the city’s creditors—an agreement which relieved Detroit from the obligation to make full pension payments, except to those who would otherwise fall below the federal poverty level for a decade, permitting the City of Detroit to shed $7 billion in debt and freeing up some $1.4 billion over the ensuing decade—funds vital for the city to reinvest in critical services.
While the city was reorganizing in bankruptcy court, Detroit Public Schools was piling up more operating debt under state emergency management. In June 2016, the Michigan Legislature approved a $617 billion bailout of the state’s largest school system and created a new debt-free district. The out-of-court reorganization was modeled after GM’s 2009 bankruptcy. Wayne County also wrestled with a financial crisis over the past decade. In 2015 and 2016, County Executive Warren Evans’ administration erased an $82 million structural deficit. By 2018, CEO Evans had found a solution to the County and City signal challenge: a half-built county jail on the eastern edge of downtown Detroit—a municipal facility which his predecessor, Bob Ficano, had abandoned, but only after the issuance of some $150 million worth of municipal bonds—at which point, Wayne County worked out an agreement with Dan Gilbert’s Rock Ventures to construct a new county jail on the eastern edge of the Motor City’s downtown and raze the partially completed “fail jail.” Now, in the wake of a decade of false starts, that site is envisioned as a satellite campus for University of Michigan graduate programs.
Who is on First in Puerto Rico? U.S. Federal District Court Judge Laura Taylor Swain has set a new target date of next month to complete negotiations and present her with an amended report on the status of negotiations between the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA) Fiscal Oversight Board and the U.S. territory’s municipal bondholders in this quasi-chapter 9 municipal bankruptcy case, requesting the mediation team at the end of last week to provide her with an amended quasi-plan of chapter 9 plan of debt adjustment or resolution by no later than February 10th. Similarly, the judge presiding over the cases of Title III of Puerto Rico said that the parties involved in the debt renegotiation process will have about 11 days after the presentation of the amended report, or until the day before George Washington’s birthday, to submit its comments. Understandably, Judge Swain needs sufficient time in which to evaluate the mediators’ proposal during the general hearing on March 4th, with her decision coming in response to an urgent request that the Title III Case Mediation Team made last Monday with the objective that the PROMESA Board, the U.S. Territory of Puerto Rico, and the creditor groups can continue the negotiations this month: in principle, Judge Swain approved the request the same day, but, at the end of last week, Judge Swain extended her decision to indicate to the mediators that the amended report must be submitted by the established date, whether or not there is an agreement between the parties. The pressure comes in the wake of her pressure last year for the parties to enter into a mediation process with regard to the validity of part of the island’s public debt and questions of the creditors to the Board; however, given the seeming inability of the parties to achieve an agreement; Judge Swain asked Judge Barbara J. Houser, who chairs the Mediation Team, to submit a report to establish which disputes could be settled—and which would have to be litigated in court; last month, on the 11th, Judge Swain presided over the general hearing of the Title III cases; a first mediation report was discussed there—at which point it had been agreed there would be an amended report by next week—a deadline which has since been postponed one month; Judge Houser suggested that Judge Swain allow the disputes which seek to invalidate part of the public debt of Puerto Rico and other similar debts which, at present, are suspended, to continue their course. Thus, with Judge Swain’s order, the automatic suspension of litigation will continue until March 11. In the litigation schedule proposed by Judge Houser, a schedule which will now be subject to the general hearing scheduled for March; likely making for a busy schedule, as that is similar to the time table proposed for the resolution of the dispute over the municipal bonds of the Highway and Transportation Authority, where the issue relates to the demand which seeks to invalidate certain General Obligation bonds as well as part of the debt of the Public Buildings Authority until June 2020; unless an agreement is reached, both issues would be deferred likely to a year from next June, effectively deferring the presentation of an amended adjustment plan for the government and the consequent confirmation process. Judge Taylor Swain last Friday asked the Mediation Team on Friday to present, no later than February 10, the amended report on the negotiation process to restructure the island’s public debt.
Judge Swain said that the parties involved in the debt renegotiation process will have approximately days after the presentation of the amended report, or until February 21st, to submit its comments, clearing the path for Judge Swain to be able to evaluate the mediators’ proposal during the general hearing scheduled for March 4, with Judge Swain’s decision a response to an urgent request that the Title III Case Mediation Team made last Monday with the objective that the PROMESA Board, Puerto Rico, and the creditor groups can continue the conversations this month. It appears, in principle, that Judge Swain approved the request the same day, albeit, at the end of last week, she extended her decision to indicate to the mediators that the amended report must be submitted by the established date, whether or not there is an agreement between the parties.
Given, however, that the parties do not seem to be able to reach an understanding, Judge Swain has asked Judge Barbara J. Houser, who chairs the Mediation Team, to submit a report to establish which disputes could be agreed upon, and which would have to be litigated in court, after, last month, as she presided over the general hearing of the Title III cases and a first mediation report was discussed, there was agreement that there would be an amended report by January 10, a deadline now postponed one month. In sum, Judge Houser suggested that Judge Swain allow the disputes which seek to invalidate part of the public debt of Puerto Rico, as well as other related suits, which, at present, are suspended, to continue their course, meaning that the automatic suspension of litigation will continue until March 11th. In the litigation schedule proposed by Judge Houser—litigation which would now be subject to the general hearing scheduled for March, it was proposed that the dispute regarding the municipal bonds of the Highway and Transportation Authority, would begin to air in March, as well as the demand which seeks to invalidate certain General Obligation bonds and part of the debt of the Public Buildings Authority.
Unless an agreement occurs, both litigation would postpone the presentation of an amended adjustment plan for the government and the consequent confirmation process, probably, until 2021.