Bolger: Detroit is on a tough road with a bright future
'No way, no how," would I support a bailout of Detroit.
My reaction, like many taxpayers across the state, wasn't out of dislike for Detroit but from a belief that a bailout would not help Detroit succeed. A bailout would be a short-term patch, not a long-term cure.
We also heard "no way, no how" from the DIA, Detroit retirees, the unions, and Detroit's bondholders. "It wasn't my fault," "It's not my responsibility," and "I'm entitled to more" were just some of the variations we heard.
Then things changed through a proposal that was not a bailout but a structural fix. We had a realization that regardless of past fault, we all had a responsibility for rebuilding our state's largest city.
Detroit has driven Michigan and literally fueled the defense of our country's democracy. But Detroit's proud history had been eclipsed by its deteriorated condition.
My tour of Detroit's neighborhoods with state Rep. Harvey Santana, D-Detroit, and Detroit Police Capt. Decker really drove home that Detroit government's advantages were not advantages for Detroit residents, and that Detroit's people were hungry for solutions.
The leadership of Gov. Rick Snyder to face the reality of Detroit's past and take the city into emergency management and then bankruptcy was courageous. His Relentless Positive Action would finally provide a path for the future and the beginning of the solution.
The raw determination of Chief Judge Gerald Rosen and his refusal to accept "no way" as he forged a mediated settlement was relentless, as well. Foundations joining him led the way to begin settlement options.
The masterful restructuring and ability to explain why it would last by Kevyn Orr was essential. The additional cost to Michigan taxpayers of a full bankruptcy and pension cuts would eclipse $200 million in legal and social safety net costs. Plus there was the unacceptable risk of taxpayers being held liable for $3.5 billion in unfunded pensions as well as the undeniable drag on the economic and jobs recovery of the state if our biggest city were mired in years of bankruptcy.
The financial calculations showed settlement would avoid potentially catastrophic costs for a one-time payment of $195 million. Further, ensuring a one-time payment could be made from the state's savings account now insured against a claim to taxpayer dollars later. This structure meant the proposal was not a bailout, but a settlement that would save taxpayer dollars and empower rebuilding. Coupling this with avoiding the human cost of massive pension losses further made settlement a valuable and compassionate alternative.
Still, the DIA had not yet agreed to be a part of its own independence. And, the government unions representing Detroit workers had not yet stepped up with their own resources.
Later, the DIA and the Michigan Building and Construction Trades pledged millions, an essential move for joining in the solution. With their participation, every group would be invested in the success of the settlement as well as ensuring the failures of the past would not be repeated.
The leadership and cooperation between state Reps. John Walsh, R-Livonia, and Tommy Stallworth, D-Detroit, to forge a reasonable but undiluted legislative package was inspiring. The long hours put in by House legislative staff, especially Brock Swartzle and Travis Weber, were impressive.
The statesmanship of the overwhelmingly bipartisan support in the House and then the Senate membership was key. The leadership in Detroit and being able to work with Mayor Duggan and legislative minority leaders Tim Greimel and Gretchen Whitmer helped make this all feasible. U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Detroit, was very helpful in facilitating communications. And Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville was, as always, a great partner to work with in moving legislation forward.
It is said that "success has many fathers." In the case of Detroit's settlement that is certainly true. I'm sure in this limited space I've failed to list everyone I should have. But when I'm asked what event or person was key, my observation is that everyone was. It is hard to imagine Detroit emerging from bankruptcy without everything that brought the settlement to this point.
Most of all, it is Detroit's people that deserve credit and will be rewarded by better days ahead. It is their resilience that kept their city from falling further and it is their hard work that will rebuild this great city.
Detroit's future is brighter than it has ever been. Now, every family in Michigan is protected by the settlement of Detroit's past. And Detroiters will benefit from the success of Detroit's future.
My favorite recent comments have been from determined Detroiters excited about building their future. I love the 30-somethings who have said "We can be a number in Chicago, but we can be pioneers in Detroit." The spirit of self determination, the grit and hard work of building success — these are the fabric of Michigan's history and the fuel for Detroit's future.
State Rep. Jase Bolger, R-Marshall, is speaker of the House.