Detroit filed the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history

Lawyers for Detroit will attempt to convince a federal judge at the city’s bankruptcy trial that its plans to wipe out billions of dollars in debt should be approved, as the trial for the largest public bankruptcy filing in U.S. history begins.

After some delays, the start of the trial on Tuesday in U.S. District Court comes just over 13 months after Detroit became the largest U.S. city to file for bankruptcy.

The trial is an autopsy on what Michigan’s governor has called decades of ruinous financial decisions in the once-booming industrial hub of Detroit, combined with an exodus of people the population has dropped to 700,000 from 1.8 million and other social and economic factors. More than 70,000 homes have been targeted for demolition or are at-risk of becoming part of Detroit’s urban decay, according to a recent study.

Detroit expects to cut $12 billion in unsecured debt to about $5 billion, which is “more manageable,” according to Bill Nowling, a spokesman for the city’s state-appointed emergency manager Kevyn Orr.

Most creditors, including more than 30,000 retirees and city employees, have endorsed the plan of adjustment put together by Orr and his restructuring team.

The plan includes commitments from the state, major corporations, foundations and others to donate more than $800 million over 20 years to soften cuts to city pensions. In return, pieces in the city—owned Detroit Institute of Arts would be placed into a trust to keep them from being sold to satisfy creditors.

General retirees would take a 4.5 percent pension cut and lose annual inflation adjustments. Retired police officers and firefighters would lose only a portion of their annual cost-of-living raise.

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The strongest opposition to the plan has come from bond insurers like New York-based Syncora Guarantee. Syncora has said its claim is about $400 million and that Detroit has unfairly discriminated against financial creditors.

“It has been a very fast-track bankruptcy, which Syncora has no issue with,” company attorney James Sprayregen said. “Syncora’s issue is the lack of transparency of the process and the unfair treatment of its claims.”

Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes has scheduled additional hearing dates, if needed, into October. But in the end, bankruptcy expert Anthony Sabino expects Rhodes to approve Detroit’s bankruptcy plan followed by appeals from creditors.

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