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pensions

Last week, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette did something many found startling, especially those politically liberal. Schuette announced that in Detroit's bankruptcy filing he intended to intervene on behalf of those who have pensions coming.

AG's office

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette says the state constitution protects Detroit pension benefits from being reduced or eliminated by the city’s bankruptcy.

Schuette says he will be in court Monday asking to join the case on behalf of pensioners.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes took control of lawsuits challenging the bankruptcy filing because it puts city pension benefits in jeopardy. But he has not ruled on the substance of the question, which is whether the benefits are shielded by protections in the Michigan Constitution.

flickr user Bernt Rostad / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Detroit’s bankruptcy could impact many people’s daily lives, perhaps the city’s retirees most of all. At a banquet hall in Livonia this week the Detroit Retired City Employees Association held its annual luncheon. Over one thousand people attended. Many of them worry they may lose part or all of their pensions in the bankruptcy. 

Hear the worries, frustrations, and thoughts of retirees with close to 200 years of city service between them in their own voices below.  


User: Brother O'Mara / flickr

Buena Vista and Inkster school districts to be dissolved

The state is moving ahead to dissolve the Inkster and Buena Vista school districts. Both districts failed to meet a deadline yesterday to prove they could keep their doors open next school year. Now state officials say it could be a matter of days before the districts are dissolved, Michigan Public Radio's Jake Neher reports.

Protesters arrested at pipeline worksite

Enbridge energy is building a 285 mile pipeline across Michigan that will carry tar sands oil. The pipeline will replace the one that ruptured three years ago. Yesterday, protesters chained themselves to heavy equipment at a worksite southeast of Lansing. They say the new pipeline will present an environmental threat. Twelve people were arrested at a protest yesterday, Michigan Radio's Steve Carmody reports.

Will Detroit retirees see pension cuts?

A federal bankruptcy court will now be the scene for some huge decisions about the future of Detroit which filed for Chapter Nine protection last week. One of the key issues is whether retirees will see their benefits cut. Michigan Radio's Sarah Hulett has more.

User: Brother O'Mara / flickr

Hearing date set for challenge to gay marriage ban

"A federal judge has set an October 1 hearing date for a challenge to Michigan’s ban on gay marriage and adoptions by same-sex couples. A lesbian couple in Hazel Park is seeking the right to marry or jointly adopt the children they are raising together. Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette says the U.S. Supreme Court has allowed states to continue setting their own rules on marriage, and he is defending the Michigan Constitution," Rick Pluta reports.

Kevyn Orr and union leaders discuss pension benefits

"A group of Detroit pension and union leaders have met in the first of two closed-door meetings with the restructuring team of the city's state-appointed emergency manager. Kevyn Orr wants huge cuts in pension benefits and health insurance to avoid the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history. Some bankruptcy experts say the session could be the tipping point that leads to an unprecedented bankruptcy," the Associated Press reports.

Reinstated law prohibits schools from taking union dues

A Michigan law prohibiting schools from taking payroll deductions for union dues is back on the books. A federal judge erased an injunction on the law after an appeals court struck down her 2012 decision suspending it. The law was approved by the Republican-controlled legislature and signed by Governor Rick Snyder. The appeals court said ending payroll deductions doesn't infringe on a union's right to free speech.

User: Brother O'Mara / flickr

Detroit's pension systems vs. Kevyn Orr

Detroit has two pension systems and both have posted fairly strong funding levels. But emergency manager Kevyn Orr has questioned some of those numbers. Orr spokesman Bill Nowling says using more realistic projections changes the funding levels, but Detroit’s pension systems say their numbers are correct.

Michigan schools might consolidate services

Michigan schools could be forced to consolidate many of their services into county-wide systems if state lawmakers decide to go along with a plan released yesterday by state Superintendent Mike Flanagan. Flanagan wants services like transportation, food, and staff training to be handled at the county or regional level.

“And local districts, they can spend time on student achievement issues and not worry about all that other stuff,” Flanagan told Michigan Public Radio's Jake Neher.

Detroit City Council will select new leader

The Detroit City Council is expected to select a new president today. The board typically numbers nine but now has six members after two recently resigned and the former President Charles Pugh deserted his duties.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr is turning his focus to the city’s pension system.

This morning, Orr directed Detroit’s Inspector General and Auditor General to begin an investigation into the city’s pension funds.

The order specifically directs investigators to look for evidence of “possible waste, abuse, fraud and corruption”.

A spokesman says Detroit’s emergency manager has been looking into the city’s pension system, and what’s been found so far suggests further investigation is needed.

The probe is expected to take 60 days.

We didn’t have an early spring this year, but it looks like an early summer. I say that because while it is still technically spring, the authorities are already engaged in what has been a late summer Michigan ritual, digging up a field to look for Jimmy Hoffa.

Usually, it strikes me as strange that this case still gets so much attention, but this year we’ve been so overwhelmed with news from Detroit that we probably need a little escape.

Sarah Cwiek/Michigan Radio

Next week Kevyn Orr will be meeting with creditors to start negotiations in attempts to keep the city from going bankrupt.

According to Matt Helms of the Detroit Free Press, the negotiations will includes over 150 representatives from the city’s major creditors including national banks who hold the city’s bonds, insurers, union representatives, and pensioners.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

This week in review Rina Miller and Jack Lessenberry discuss the possibility of repealing a tax on pensions, how Michigan's home foreclosure rate is no longer the worst, and how the international trade crossing has a presidential permit to move forward.

Faberge eggs, Rodin sculptures, and a mountainside resort in Costa Rica. And now bribe money from a heroin dealer. The plot behind the theft of Detroit pension fund money thickens. And now that Kastenes has surrendered, more answers are likely to come.

Michigan’s 250,000 teachers and state school employees face a  deadline of October 26th to choose a new retirement plan. But some groups are asking the State Supreme Court to extend that deadline.

State legislators passed a law changing the pension system in August. Ellen Hoekstra represents the Michigan Federation of Teachers.

"We’re advising people to get as much information as they can and at least fix in their own mind what option they think would be best for themselves and their own family – prior to the 26th – in case that ends up being the deadline," said Hoekstra.

School employees will have four options.

One would require them to pay more than they pay now, to get the same pension.

Another option would allow people to pay the same amount they pay now, but get a smaller pension when they retire.

State employees call court ruling a 'victory'

Sep 28, 2012

Thousands of state employees are applauding a judge’s ruling that they shouldn't be forced to pay for their pension benefits.

An Ingham County Circuit Court judge said today that a rule requiring state employees cough up four-percent of their salaries to keep their pensions is unconstitutional.

She said it’s effectively a pay cut, something only the Michigan Civil Service Commission has the authority to enact.

Ray Holman is with UAW Local 6000, the largest state employee union in Michigan.

Another law requiring state employees to pay more for their benefits was struck down in court today. This requirement governed pension plan contributions. Another law requiring retiree health care contributions was found unconstitutional last year.

Faberge eggs, Rodin sculptures, and a mountainside resort in Costa Rica. These are just some of the treasures being sought by Detroit pension fund lawyers. They're accusing George and Teresa Kastanes of bilking $5 million from a January 2008 pension fund investment deal. The Detroit News reports no criminal charges have been filed.

GM Renaissance Center in Detroit.
John F. Martin / Creative Commons

Today is the deadline for more than 40,000 General Motors retirees to accept their former employer's offer of a lump sum buyout of their pensions.

Otherwise, their pensions will be taken over by Prudential Insurance.

GM's Randy Arrix said the change is part of the company's efforts to create what it calls a "fortress balance sheet."  Getting underfunded pensions off the books strengthens the balance sheet.

"Pension obligations are very volatile, and they're volatile because they're dependent on some things within our control like contributions, and other things that are not, said Arrix.

Some GM retirees are angry about the change, which they see as a broken promise by GM, but for others, the buyout is an opportunity to control their own money.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - The Michigan Senate is expected to vote on legislation that would end state-provided health care coverage in retirement for new public school hires and require current employees to pay more toward pensions.

The Wednesday legislative session is the only one scheduled for July. The Senate is expected to take up the bill passed last month by the House.

The bill doesn't contain earlier language that would force new teachers into a 401 (k)-style plan. The measure calls for studying how ending the pensions would affect the state.

Alex Schulte / Michigan Radio

90,000 white collar Ford retirees will soon have a big decision to make. Should they stay in the auto company’s pension plan? Or take their chances with a lump sum payout instead?

The offer Ford Motor Company announced in late April is believed to be the first of its kind for such a large ongoing pension fund.

Lump sum the buzz at Ford retirement clubs

In Michigan there are more than 30 clubs for Ford retirees. The lump sum option is the conversation at retiree club meetings right now.

“Retirees are going to have to make a decision about mortality, about death; their own. That’s not something we do every day,” Ford retiree Charles White said. White worked at the Dearborn campus for 29 years in engineering management. He retired in 1996.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Rising pension costs may throw a monkey wrench into the city of Lansing’s plans to hire police officers next year.

Lansing’s mayor proposed using money from a special public safety millage to rehire nine laid off police officers.    But the mayor’s office released a draft report Monday which says the city will have to come up with nearly two million dollars next year to cover rising police and fire pension costs.  

Allieosmar / Flickr

Democrats in Lansing plan to use this week’s tax-filing deadline to re-open the debate about last year’s tax overhaul at the state Capitol.

Democrats think the tax issue will help them in elections this year. Seniors born after 1946 have their pensions taxed for the first time. Deductions and tax breaks for many charitable donations will be gone when state taxpayers file next year. At the same time, taxes were lowered for many businesses.

Democrats intend to remind voters of that as they try to win an additional nine seats in November to take control of the state House. They say more than a dozen swing districts will be the target of fierce campaigning on the issue of taxes.

Republicans says there are elements of the tax overhaul that were unpopular, but necessary to streamline and simplify tax filing and to make Michigan a more business-friendly state.

Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

Teachers turned out by the hundreds in Lansing to oppose legislation that would force them to pay more for their pensions and retirement health care, or have their benefits reduced.

Some of them protested outside a state Senate committee hearing today on the legislation.

One of them was Pinckney teacher Sam Ziegler. He says the measure would break a promise to his profession.

"I knew I wasn't going to be a millionaire teaching," Ziegler said. "But it was something that was worthwhile that benefited others and myself, and I was told that I'd have a pension to go to and now it’s just slowly eroding and I see the danger that it will keep eroding away."

But some Republicans like state Senator Patrick Colbeck says the public school employee pension fund has liabilities so big the system could go insolvent if nothing is done. 

"Somebody’s got to pay for that eventually, later and right now that’s being pushed off because – if we’re talking about dealing with unfunded liabilities – being pushed off to the same kids that we're working hard to educate right now," said Colbeck.

Teachers say state government has increased the stress on the system with budget cuts that reduce districts capacity to pay into it, and forced layoffs that mean fewer people paying into the system.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Five state lawmakers took tough questions from parents in East Grand Rapids Wednesday night. The legislative committee of the schools' PTA hosted the lawmakers; four republicans and one democrat. Hot issues included a proposed bill on cyber schools and the governor’s proposed k-12 budget for next school year.

Cyber charter schools

Last year Michigan lifted the cap on how many charter schools public universities can run. Now, there’s a bill proposed that would allow more cyber charter schools to operate.

Many parents asked the lawmakers why cyber schools get the same amount of state money per child as brick and morter ones. State Representative Peter MacGregor (R-Rockford) said cyber schools shouldn’t get as much, saying the savings should be passed on to the taxpayers. Cyber charters can be run by national for-profit companies.

Tina Murua has two kids enrolled in East Grand Rapids schools. “I fear that they’ve couched the whole thing in terms of parental choice because…who can argue with that? It’s a brilliant strategy but it was a false choice,” Murua said. She worries companies are pushing states to allow more cyber schools just to make money.  

The state senate already approved the cyber charter school bill. It passed the State House Education Committee in late February.

Ford

DETROIT (AP) - Ford Motor Co. says it will pump $3.8 billion into its global pension plans this year as it tries to get them closer to fully funding their obligations.

The company also says that it has raised the annual pay for its 16 directors by 25 percent to $250,000.

The disclosures came in Ford's annual report filed Tuesday with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Ford says it will put $2 billion into the U.S. pension plan, make $350,000 in benefit payments and put the remaining $1.45 billion into other plans across the globe.

The report says that as of Dec. 31, the U.S. plan was $9.4 billion short of its obligations, while global plans, which include the U.S., were short by $15.4 billion.

MLHS

A new report by the Michigan League for Human Services takes a look at Michigan's shifting tax policy and it's impact on low-income families.

The report shows what we already know, that businesses in Michigan will receive a tax cut in the state while individuals will pay more.

Low income families, the report's author Joanne Bump concludes, will be hit the hardest.

Sean Marshall / Creative Commons

265 Kalamazoo City employees are eligible for the early retirement incentive. According to the city’s Human Resources Director Jerome Post, 191 of them have already signed up. “I have to admit I’m a little surprised at the number of people,” Post said the number is higher than he expected.

 “It’s been a little bit anxiety ridden for us but at the same time we’ve been very excited about the opportunity this presents for us to restructure virtually every department in the city,” Post said.

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Organizations representing retiree groups say they want the Michigan Legislature to repeal an unpopular tax on pensions, or lawmakers will pay the political price in the 2012 election.

The AARP and groups representing public employee retirees called for a repeal Friday before the new tax plan takes effect in January.

The groups say they haven't ruled out filing suit in federal court to try and block the changes, but they are focused on getting lawmakers to take action.

When the Legislature returns to the state Capitol next week, there will be another item added to its to-do list. That is: coming up with millions of dollars to fill a budget gap created by the state Supreme Court decision on Michigan’s new pension tax. The court upheld the tax on pensions, but said denying a tax break to some higher-earners effectively created a graduated income tax.

A graduated income tax is not allowed under the state constitution. That part of the decision also blew a $60 million hole in the state budget. Sixty million dollars is a small part of a general fund budget that exceeds $8 billion.

But it is an amount the governor and the Legislature will need to make up to meet their obligation under the state constitution to have a balanced budget. One possibility would be to use a projected surplus from last year’s budget to fill the gap. That number becomes official in January. But it appears the surplus will be somewhere near $400 million.

Lawmakers are already fighting over what to do with that money. Democrats say it should be used to restore some budget cuts to schools. Republicans say it should go into the state’s “rainy day” savings fund, or to pay down debt.

The Michigan Supreme Court says a new law taxing public pensions does not violate the state Constitution. 

The advisory opinion released today is a major victory for Governor Rick Snyder, who signed the sweeping tax changes earlier this year. Employee unions were opposed to the new law.

State officials expect the law will generate as much as $330 million dollars in revenue in 2013.

The court did say a portion of the law doesn't pass muster. The court ruled the tax could not be administered as a graduated income tax, which is illegal under the state constitution. And that means Governor Rick Snyder will have to go back and find more revenue or more cuts to make sure the state budget remains balanced.

However, the Supreme Court says that does not stop the rest of the tax overhaul from taking effect.

The court divided along party lines, with the four Republican justices making up the majority.  

The decision means the new tax on pensions will take effect January first largely as it was designed by Governor Rick Snyder and the Legislature. However, they will have to come up with a plan to make up some of the money they were counting on to balance the budget.

The Michigan Supreme Court will soon issue an opinion on whether the new law taxing pensions is constitutional.

If they say it is, it’s full speed ahead for the governor’s plan. If they decided that taxing pensions is not constitutional, it’ll knock a huge hole in the budget. That means the state will have to get more revenue -- which means raising taxes.

That, or roll back the business tax cuts or slash aid to education and other programs more severely than ever.

And while I don’t pretend to know exactly what would happen, I can tell you this, after talking to the governor last week. He isn’t about to roll back the tax cuts, and he doesn’t want to raise taxes.

Subterranean / Wikipedia Commons

Scores of seniors upset the state will tax some of their public pensions for the first time are expected to pack the courtroom when the Michigan Supreme Court hears oral arguments on the law.

The hearing begins Wednesday morning in the Hall of Justice.

The case is a major test of sweeping tax changes put in place earlier this year by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder.

He wants a Supreme Court advisory opinion that would effectively pre-empt any court challenge on the law filed by opponents such as public employee unions, who say the state constitution protects their pensions from being taxed.

Starting Jan. 1, pensions and some retirement income that previously was partially exempt would be taxed as regular income for those born after 1945.

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