Thinking for ourselves
Toward a People’s Plan
By Shea Howell
Week 47 of the Occupation
Emergency Manger Kevyn Orr delivered his proposals for exiting bankruptcy to Judge Steven Rhodes on Friday morning. Called The Plan of Adjustment, the document is more than 400 pages long and includes a dense “Disclosure Statement” that describes how Orr aims to restore the city to financial heath. The statement promises to lower police response time, restore streetlights and renew blighted neighborhoods. Orr promises to upgrade everything from emergency vehicles to computer systems.
The Plan is written by lawyers, for lawyers. No effort was made by Orr and his high priced public relations team to provide an accessible public version, even though the implications of it will affect every single person in the city for years to come.
Some aspects are clear. Orr proposes drastic cuts to pensions. He does not cancel the debt to banks. He offers no structural changes to increase revenues. Most of the money he proposes to spend will be to tear down the city, not build it up. He will privatize services and move the Water Department into a “regional authority.”
First, there is the assault on pensions. Without any explanation, other than to try and pit one group of retirees against another, Orr applied a two-tiered reduction to pensions, cutting 10% from police and fire fighters and 34% from all other city workers.
AFSCME Council 25 President Al Garrett called Orr’s plan a “gut punch to Detroit city workers and retirees.” He said, “The plan essentially eliminates health care benefits for retirees and drastically cuts earned pension benefits. Retirees cannot survive these huge cuts to the pensions they earned. The plan is unfair and unacceptable.”
For the average retiree earning $19,000 a year, this means a loss of nearly $6500 a year. People who have worked all their lives in good faith, whose future was secured by contract and constitution, are now being told that their final years will be spent in poverty.
Only a small group of unsecured creditors will have their payments reduced to 20%. Secured creditors will be repaid at 100%, and others are yet to be negotiated. The plan does not project suing the banks for criminal acts.
The New York Times offered an important assessment of the Plan. It observed: “The proposal is less a vision for a brand-new city than a repair estimate for the old one. It is a document designed by lawyers and bankruptcy experts to find ways to pay off more than 100,000 creditors and then budget money over a period of years to create a community that can reliably offer basic services like streetlights and trash pickup.
“It envisions tearing down tens of thousands of blighted buildings, for instance, but does not contemplate broader philosophical issues.”
The Times pinpoints the lack of structural thinking, concluding: “It by no means resolves an array of complex political, financial and social issues here, any of which could thwart Detroit’s hopes for ending bankruptcy protection as swiftly as state and city officials insist it will.”
The lack structural thinking is because Orr, Snyder and company are incapable of reimagining a vibrant, productive Detroit where all people are valued and respected as critical to the fabric of daily life.
To find that kind of thinking, you have to go outside the corridors of corrupt power.
Shortly after Orr released his Plan, a broadly-based community coalition released a “People’s Plan of Adjustment: Toward a Sustainable Detroit.” The People’s Plan begins: “The restructuring and rebirth of Detroit will not be delivered by a state-imposed emergency manager, nor through Chapter 9 bankruptcy proceedings, foundation contributions, closed door deals, or other devious and misleading corporate schemes. Detroit’s rebirth will be the result of the people’s unrelenting demand for democratic self-governance, equal access to and management of the natural and economic resources of the city.”
The Coalition encourages people to consider both plans and exercise their democratic rights to share their thinking with the Judge. The full text of the People’s Plan can be found at http://www.d-rem.org.