Analysis: Stuck in reverse, Detroit edges closer to bankruptcy

Mon Jan 28, 2013 6:40pm EST
 
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By Nick Carey, Bernie Woodall and Karen Pierog

DETROIT (Reuters) - At the Detroit Auto Show earlier this month, luxury was in the air. Pricey new Bentleys and Maseratis glittered - including a Maserati 2014 Quattroporte with a $132,000 price tag; U.S. Cabinet Secretaries and dignitaries rubbed shoulders; and many of the well-heeled attendees ponied up for a $300-a-ticket black-tie charity ball.

But in a city that is slowly dying, the glitz didn't extend much beyond the Cobo Center exhibition hall.

General Motors Co GM.N and Chrysler FIA.MI, which along with Ford Motor Co F.N gave the Motor City its identity, survived near-death experiences after filing for bankruptcy during the financial crisis. Now, Detroit itself is edging closer to a similar precipice, only unlike the automakers, its chances of getting a federal bailout are almost nonexistent.

The story of Detroit's decline is decades old: Its tax revenue and population have shrunk and labor costs have remained out of whack. But the city's budget problems have deepened to such an extent that it could run out of cash in a matter of weeks or months and ultimately be forced into what would be the largest-ever Chapter 9 municipal bankruptcy filing in the United States.

Frustrated by the lack of concrete progress, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, a Republican, last month appointed a team to scour the city's books. The audit could result in a state takeover of Detroit's finances through the appointment of an emergency financial manager. Such a manager, who would seize control of the city's checkbook, could then propose federal bankruptcy court as the best option.

Snyder, who has called the situation "a crisis in terms of financial affairs," said the team would deliver its report in February.

"Detroit is teetering on the verge of bankruptcy after the City Council has failed to make the necessary cuts to deal with having a smaller population," said Rick Jones, chairman of the Republican majority caucus in the state Senate.

Jones, who has indicated he does not favor a bankruptcy, said he would like to see an emergency manager installed to fix the city's problems. If that failed, there would be a case for finding a way to shrink the Detroit municipal area, he argued.   Continued...

 
Vacant and blighted homes are seen in a once vibrant east side neighborhood in Detroit, Michigan January 27, 2013. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook