The special Michigan House Committee on Detroit’s Recovery and Michigan’s Future is meeting this week to consider a package of 10 bills that would provide funding, oversight and other terms for Detroit. Rep. Thomas Stallworth III (D-Detroit) is a member of the committee and he spoke with WDET’s Craig Fahle today.
Here’s a transcript of what he said. Craig’s questions are paraphrased:
Craig Fahle (CF): What are these bills about?
Rep. Thomas Stallworth (TS): We’ve got thousands of people who are retirees, whose future, their quality of life, really, depends on our ability to get this legislation through. Equally important is moving Detroit out of bankruptcy and putting it on a path to future prosperity, and, quite frankly, in doing so we not only help Detroit but we help the state of Michigan.
CF: What is the reason for the proposed 20 years of oversight for Detroit that is part of this legislation?
TS: Quite frankly, we looked at where a large municipal bankruptcies or financial crises have occurred around the country, whether it’s the District of Columbia or New York, which seems to be the model most people look at. Oversight is always a component of any financial assistance, and, in fact, from a practical standpoint, that’s going to be a requirement in order to get the funding. So I’m OK with some level of oversight but I’m not OK with oversight that really steps on our ability to be self determined and self governed.
CF: What are your thoughts about the oversight provisions in the bills?
TS: One is that if we’re having an oversight board or commission that local elected officials have some input or representation on that board, that being the mayor and city council, so that their voices are heard as well. Secondly, I think we need to be clear on what the metric or performance level is … to get out from under the oversight. Currently that’s unclear in the legislation. I think what’s critical is being clear and reasonable about the level of performance that the city needs to have to come out from under oversight and not leave the door open for continued, unjustifiable oversight.
CF: What amendments do you expect?
TS: As you know, very few bills end up as they start out so we have started the process, we’re in dialogue, there are a number of issues that need to be addressed and I’m confident that we’ll be able to address them. My hopes are that we’ll land in a position that, again, protects our retirees and affords us the opportunity for some assistance with our pensions and that if there is oversight, that it is reasonable and justifiable.
CF: Does Kevyn Orr have the ear of legislators?
TS: I think Kevyn laid out a reasonable game plan in the Plan of Adjustment. I believe he has some credibility with Republicans and the governor’s office and if there’s one thing I would emphasize more, and I tried to emphasize it in my questions, is just providing a deeper understanding of just how severe the cuts to the pensions, wages and benefits would be … Secondly, the impact of this would have on the state’s economy and the need for additional public assistance dollars for senior citizens otherwise would not be.
CF: Did he make that case adequately? One of the questions that I get asked all the time is, “What happens if the grand bargain doesn’t work?”
TS: I think we’re going to have to continue to explain to people just how critical this is and the severity of cuts to quality of life that affect seniors, retirees and active employees. … It’s not a one-time compensation, and of course, there are those in the state who probably feel like they don’t necessarily want to help Detroit or that Detroit doesn’t deserve it. Detroit is a legal entity, and this package of bills is primarily set up to help people who are on fixed incomes and who, absent this package, would probably be facing some 50-60 percent reduction in their monthly pension checks, ultimately putting them in poverty.
CF: Do you think the full Legislature, with its Republican majority, will support this legislation?
TS: I think that was made clear when the so-called Grand Bargain was initially announced at a press conference held by the governor where he was joined by (House) Speaker (Jase) Bolger and Senate Majority Leader (Rand) Richardville. All three at that point in time indicated that they were supportive of the idea an that they would be supportive of putting a process together to see if we could move the legislation forward that ultimately would help resolve the pension crisis.
CF: What is the effect of having the special, small, five-member committee that’s considering this legislation?
TS: I think that the purpose of having a smaller committee is one that ensure that we have people on the committee who are going to be careful to not overly politicize the issues and really stay focused on the main objectives. And the main objectives are again, to protect seniors and retirees first and foremost, secondly to get the city out of bankruptcy as quickly as possible because quite frankly, as the city goes through this bankruptcy process, the state overall will suffer severely as well. And then lastly, of course, we can’t forget that the bills are designed to provide some security for the DIA.
CF: What are you hearing from your constituents about the proposed legislation?
TS: It’s a mixed bag, and it’s very interesting because I think the way I see it is a lot of how people see it has to do with age and circumstance. Those who are near retirement or at retirement feel very strongly about moving this package of legislation through. I think maybe some of my younger constituents are much more concerned about oversight and retaining our rights to self governance. I think each is equally important, and what we’ve got to do is really strike a balance where maybe not everybody is happy but we’re accepting of the end product.
CF: Are we getting close to adopting the legislation?
TS: It’s a little early, Craig, a little early, but I have confidence. I have confidence in the committee members that have been assigned. I have confidence that at the end of the day, the general public and the Legislature will understand just how important this is to the state’s future.