There was an interesting Q&A on NPR’s All Things Considered the other day between NPR reporter Robert Siegel and Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr and it was quite obvious that these two gentlemen have two very different ways of characterizing and attacking problems.
First, here are some quotes from Mr. Siegel:
“And let’s start with that big chunk of Detroit’s debt that consists of unfunded pension liabilities. They are pensioners, as you say, they worked under contracts that guaranteed their benefits. Should they now assume that those guarantees are trumped by fiscal necessity?”
Regarding how much the pension benefits will have to be cut…“Is there any level that you would find outrageous? I mean, 50 percent cuts in pensions, is that out of the question, off the board?”
“You’ve said that there’ve been warning signs of Detroit’s demise for 60 years. Sixty years covers the working careers of most of the city’s pensioners. If they’d been told when they first went to work, you’ll have a pension, but maybe not, or maybe not as much as we say now, Detroit may not have had any employees all these years. Why can’t they say, look, I gave my labor, part of the deal was a pension and that’s the level we negotiated?”
“So you’re saying the residents of Detroit should be held accountable for the people they elected all those years, is what you’re saying?”
Now here are some quotes from Mr. Orr:
Regarding how much the pension benefits will have to be cut… “We don’t know yet. I mean, that’s part of the dialogue we have to have – are the calculations, and there are various ones that go into determining the value of a pension and what the liabilities are going to be in the future. But it appears it’s going to be the necessity for some level of adjustment. We just don’t know how deep.”
“I sort of have to divorce myself from any preconceived notion. I mean, it’s just a question of the math and dealing with the realities of where they are now. You know, over the past couple of years, you know, between the way the pensions were handled and some of the investment decisions that were made and frankly some underfunding by the city, we’re just left with a mess and that’s a whole bunch of people’s faults but that’s just a reality today.”
“So there were many times in that timeframe to adjust and to react, as you know, Robert, between – you know, economic cycles run seven to 10 years and you adjustments. And unfortunately, for a whole host of reasons, a number of people did not make appropriate adjustments and left us with the situation we have today.”
“No. I don’t want to be quite that harsh in my assumption. I’m just saying there were many indicators and warning signs that could’ve been corrected over a number of years. And I don’t want to blame the victim, in a sense, Robert. But I want to say it doesn’t really matter what happened in the past. I mean, a retrospect of looking behind us isn’t productive.”
“What matters is here’s where we are. In unfunded health care liability, we’re at 5.7 billion. In unfunded pension liability, we’re at about 3.5 billion. There’s not money. It doesn’t matter what I say. It doesn’t matter what we look back on. There’s just no money.”
To sum up Mr. Siegel’s position – People shouldn’t be held accountable for decades of voting for Democrats that borrowed from the future to give sweet heart deals to unions. It’s not fair to cut their pensions by so much. Before we go through the financial analysis we have to put a limit on the cuts right now that seem fair. We should spend more time assessing blame for the past 60 years than working to fix the problems.
To sum up Mr. Orr’s position – Elections have consequences and it’s up to the individuals to take responsibility for their actions in the voting booth. It was foolish for people to think the massive pensions could be funded in perpetuity and it’s not up to the Government to tell people they are acting foolish. Emotion has nothing to do with this problem, we have to use math to determine what has to be done. The truth isn’t mean, it’s the truth.
Bravo Mr. Orr!
And by the way, Mr. Orr is a Democrat!
Just goes to show you there are still some Democrats that still understand economics and math. I hope his approach spreads to higher levels in the Liberal DC elite.