Keith Davis, 59, left who worked for the water department for 31 years, talks about the impact of Detroit's bankruptcy on his pension at the state Capitol in Lansing on Thursday. / Romain Blanquart, Detroit Free Press
LANSING, Mich. - Michigan lawmakers saw the real face of Detroit's bankruptcy Thursday - and it was angry and confused.
"You're going to see thousands of pensioners not having health care. Long term, they're going to lose everything," said Keith Davis, a retiree who worked for the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department for 31 years. "Thousands of pensioners will have to go on food stamps who can't afford food anymore. You're going to see a lot of people give up hope."
Davis said he plans to vote no on the city's plan of adjustment because he wants to retain his right to sue the state for his constitutionally guaranteed pension.
Roderick Veil, a retiree from the Detroit Department of Transportation, isn't as sure. He said he wasn't even sure why he came to Lansing to testify before the House Committee on Detroit's Recovery and Michigan's Future.
"We raised our families here. I own a house in Detroit. We did everything you asked us to do. We can't do it any better than that. I don't know what welfare is," said Veil. "When we open the (ballot) envelope, there's a gun to our head: You take this or we're going to take more.' "
A package of 11 bills being considered by the is almost beside the point for these retirees, who said they've lost their health care and are looking at draconian cuts to their pensions and annuities. If they reflect how a majority of retirees feel - and vote - then the state bills won't help salvage the bankruptcy deal.
Gina Thomson, a retiree from the city's Department of Human Services, which the city eliminated in 2012 - two years shy of her vesting for a full pension - gets $830 a month in pension benefits, but now has to pay $211 a month in health care costs.
"I'm not looking forward to giving up any money as a retiree," she said, counting herself as a no vote on the plan of adjustment. "Yes I want the city to heal, and I'll persevere and get another job if I have to."
The testimony left Democratic state Rep. Harvey Santana, a member of the committee, deflated and undecided on how he'll vote on the bills next week.
"We're making a huge decision with a limited amount of time that's going to have huge long-term implications," he said. "I'm uncomfortable, and I don't know if we're heading down the right path."
The state is proposing sending $194.8 million to the city, which will combine with more than $366 million from charitable foundations and $100 million from the Detroit Institute of Arts, to complete what some call a grand bargain to help usher the city out of bankruptcy, reduce cuts to pension benefits and protect the DIA's art from sale.
The committee could vote as soon as Tuesday on the 11-bill package that does everything from creating an oversight commission with authority over the city's finances, budgets and contracts for at least 20 years, to requiring new employees to go into a 401(k)-type retirement plan rather than a more traditional defined-benefit pension plan and prohibiting the DIA from renewing its millage or asking for a new one.
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Read the original story: Retirees: We'll 'lose everything' in Detroit deal