Opinion
11:08 am
Tue May 6, 2014

A new chance for Lansing to do the right thing for Detroit

By now you’ve almost certainly heard about the so-called "Grand Bargain," which would save both the Detroit Institute of Arts and shore up the city’s pension funds enough to minimize the cuts.

Doing that would require hundreds of millions in funds from three sources:

  • A coalition of private foundations
  • supporters of the DIA itself
  • state government

The first two pots of money, from museum backers and the foundations, have been raised or will be.

That leaves the state’s share, which has usually been put at $350 million. Gov. Rick Snyder is supporting this. He believes, correctly, that it makes sense for the entire state.

But his Republican colleagues who control the Legislature aren’t so sure.

Speaker of the House Jase Bolger says he won’t even consider letting this come up for a vote, unless the city unions are willing to kick in some money as well.

Bolger, who is from Marshall, clearly feels no connection to or love for Detroit, and less for unions.

It isn’t clear if the city’s battered unions even have that kind of cash. What is clear to Republicans, of course, is that every dollar the unions have to give up is one less dollar they can conceivably donate to political campaigns.

I don’t have to tell you that Republicans aren’t going to get much of that, but the state itself isn’t going to prosper, at least not to the extent it could, if its main city remains in financial chaos.

That’s why the governor is supporting the Grand Bargain, even though he is neither from Detroit nor likely to get many votes there.

Now, however, there’s a new chance for Lansing to do both the right thing and save money.

Yesterday, Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr filed a reworked bankruptcy plan.

Originally, the state was to have paid out its share of the Grand Bargain over 20 years, but now it seems Lansing could save nearly half its share by making a one-time lump sum payment of a little less than $195 million.

Doing this would probably mean the bankruptcy process would be complete, and Kevyn Orr long gone by Election Day.

That’s a good deal, even allowing for expected inflation.

This would be a sensible and protected investment. The money would go directly to the pension funds, not to middlemen, and investment committees would have substantial oversight over how the pension funds invest and spend. Additionally, a one-time payment would not bind future generations.

Doing this would be a reassuring sign to Wall Street and an indication to the city’s creditors, who will soon be voting on whether to accept the bankruptcy terms. Doing this would probably mean the bankruptcy process would be complete, and Kevyn Orr long gone by Election Day.

But there are two problems remaining.

Some outstate legislators don’t want to help Detroit, and fear voter retaliation if they do. And a lump sum payment would require the lawmakers to come up with all the money now.

If they spread it over two decades, they’d have to pay less than $18 million a year.

Nevertheless, Michigan should bite the bullet, do this, and do it now. Otherwise, everyone in this state will pay in the long run, far more than most of us know.