DETROIT — Detroit is eligible to shed billions in debt in the largest public bankruptcy ever in the United States, a federal judge ruled Tuesday, while also finding that the public pensions could be reduced during reorganization despite a provision in Michigan’s Constitution.
In ruling that Detroit was eligible to reorganize under federal bankruptcy law, Judge Steven W. Rhodes said the city met every test of insolvency, including failing to pay its debts and being unable to provide a minimum level of basic services to its 680,000 residents.
“This once proud and prosperous city can’t pay its debts,” the judge said. “It’s insolvent. It’s eligible for bankruptcy. But it also has an opportunity for a fresh start.”
Appeals were expected to be filed quickly. Bruce Babiarz, a spokesman for Detroit’s fire and police retirement system, which supports 8,500 retirees, said lawyers were reviewing the ruling and expected to file an appeal by the end of the week. But the case will continue to move forward, with the next step being the city filing a “plan of adjustment.” It is unclear, however, what portions of the judge’s ruling may be appealed.