My last post was motivated by an interesting article in the L.A. Times, written by Chris Megerian, Melody Petersen, and Dean Starkman, that discussed the recent ruling by Judge Christopher Klein, the judge in the Stockton, California Chapter 9 bankruptcy.  As you may recall, the ruling put pension payments on the bankruptcy chopping block.

In that post I predicted that more municipalities would seek Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection due to unsustainable public retirement commitments.  I suspect that Judge Klein’s ruling will add fuel to the Chapter 9 fires.  And I am by no means the only one with that opinion.  In the October 2, 2014 L.A. Times, the perspicacious Melody Petersen reported:

Financially pressed California cities might turn to bankruptcy as a way to cut their increasing pension costs after a judge’s ruling, experts said Thursday.  Analysts from Moody’s Investor Services, a bond rating firm, said that Wednesday’s ruling by a federal judge considering Stockton’s case could open the door for cities to cut retirement obligations — once considered sacrosanct.  In that ruling, Judge Christopher Klein said cities could walk away from their pension obligations — just as they can from other debts.

While I am convinced that other California cities are eventually going to seek Chapter 9 protection — Madhu Ravi’s analysis suggests that an Oakland bankruptcy is on the horizon — there is a very big city in Illinois that I am watching:  Chicago is sitting on the pension obligation edge.  If Chicago were to file, it would undoubtedly displace Detroit as the largest municipal bankruptcy in the country’s history.  How likely is a Chicago bankruptcy?
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One chapter of the Bankruptcy Code that up until the last few years had not gotten much use is Chapter 9.  It is the chapter under which municipalities such as cities and counties file for bankruptcy protection.

On October 13th, 2011, I wrote a post predicting that a wave of municipal bankruptcies would start breaking on our shores.  On August 15th, 2012,  I discussed several municipal bankruptcies that had just been filed.  One of those bankruptcies, the Stockton, California, one has just been in the news because of a dispute over whether Stockton could reduce its payments to CalPERS, the retirement plan for California public employees.

Here’s an excerpt from the L.A. Times article written by Chris Megerian, Melody Petersen, and Dean Starkman, describing the ruling by the bankruptcy judge, Christopher Klein:

A federal bankruptcy judge dealt a serious blow to California’s public employee pension systems by ruling Wednesday that payments for future worker retirements can be reduced when a city declares bankruptcy — just like its other debts.  U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Christopher Klein ruled that bankruptcy law supersedes California pension laws that require cities to fund their workers’ future retirement checks.  “I’ve concluded the pension could be adjusted,” Klein said.

What does that mean for California public employees who work for a municipality that files for Chapter 9 protection?  Quite simply it means that the Rolls Royce retirement plan might end up as more of a Yugo plan.
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