LANSING, Mich., Oct. 9 (UPI) -- Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder took the unprecedented step of testifying in a deposition before union lawyers about his decision to put Detroit into bankruptcy.
The Detroit News said it was the first time a sitting governor in Michigan had ever testified under oath while in office.
Union lawyers are seeking to block a bankruptcy court's authority to allow Kevyn Orr, the emergency manager Snyder appointed to run the beleaguered city, to slash pensions being paid to 23,000 retired municipal employees. Sharon Levine, an attorney for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said such a move -- which has not been formally proposed in court but Orr has said he will pursue -- would violate the Michigan Constitution's provision protecting retirees' pensions.
Levine said Snyder wouldn't say whether the city will seek to slash the pensions as part of a plan to get out from under some $18 billion in debt.
"We were a little bit concerned to learn today that there is no plan yet in place with regard to how to deal with those pension issues," Levine said.
For his part, Snyder said there were no easy decisions about how to proceed with Motown's finances in ruin.
"Authorization of the Chapter 9 filing was a difficult but necessary decision -- one that clearly was the last and only viable option to resolve the city's fiscal crisis and restore the greatness of this proud city," Snyder said in the statement. "I am convinced that it will spur the turnaround and complete the comeback of our state's largest city, and ensure a vibrant, thriving Detroit and Michigan for generations to come."
Attorneys for AFSCME and the United Auto Workers participated in the deposition, which lasted an agreed-upon three hours in the governor's Lansing office.
Legal experts said Snyder's decision to offer a three-hour deposition could make him a target but such a strategy by union lawyers could also backfire when the statements are entered into evidence in bankruptcy court.
"The UAW has to be careful because the deposition is not a license to ask Gov. Snyder about anything they want," said Peter Henning, a Wayne State University law professor. "It is limited to the issues that are in front of the bankruptcy court. They have to be careful to keep it on point."