“Ultimately, if someone is objecting and not accepting their treatment in the plan, you get to the famous ‘cram down.”
—U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Christopher Klein, at the recent readiness hearing for Stockton’s bankruptcy trial. As reported by Calpensions.
A CalPERS attorney had asked for more court time to argue why CalPERS is so special its pensions should remain sacred, even in a Stockton’s bankruptcy. Klein, for his part, has asked all creditors to negotiate a settlement with the city.
In other words, Klein appeared to be saying to CalPERS, look, complainer, if you won’t negotiate a settlement, I may cram down the debt Stockton owes you for pensions. So get in there and negotiate.
Presumably, this is standard judicial rhetoric in bankruptcy court. But it is unusual in that Stockton is not asking pensions to be cut.
The pensions aspect of Stockton’s bankruptcy is the most vexing to support and hardest to read in court.
Some observers argue the city is foolish to waste the opportunity to lower its pension obligation, which is somewhere around $1 billion to $1.1 billion.
And Klein is sending clear signals he’ll set precedent and give CalPERs a haircut if he deems one necessary for a fair resolution.
Stockton’s decision to leave pensions intact may not be a strategic legal mistake. Vallejo, after all, left pensions intact and its plan of adjustment was approved. But is it the best course for the city? What’s a bankruptcy for, if not to reduce the city’s largest remaining liability?