A proposal to reimburse depositors in five failed Utah thrifts with 100 percent of the money in their accounts represents a good-faith effort to solve the bitter emotional and financial dilemma that has gripped the state for nearly two years.
The proposal calls for the state to bond for $67 million to pay off the depositors in full for any savings not already covered by refunds from liquidation of the thrifts.The payback does not cover interest or fees for attorneys hired by the depositors, a point of contention because the legal fees could be very heavy - as much as $10 million to $20 million.
The plan now goes to a special session of the Legislature called for July 5. Debate is sure to be sharp. Lawyers for a group calling itself DOIT, Depositors of Insured Thrifts, say the recommendation is a step in the right direction, "but we aren't there yet." Yet if the plan isn't accepted, the situation could result in a lawsuit, with the outcome uncertain. After all, the state's position is that helping the depositors is a moral obligation, not a legal one. If depositors go to court and lose, their legal costs would be even greater.
The 12-member task force named by Gov. Norm Bangerter to work out the problem has done a good job of trying to balance the interests of depositors with those of taxpayers.
That balancing act is not as easy as some people claim it to be. The depositors clearly deserve a great deal of sympathy. Hopes, dreams, and financial security are not easy things to lose, and those are the casualties in the failure of savings institutions.
Yet the general public also has a stake in the issue. Any help given to the depositors is going to dip into the pockets of the taxpayers - not exactly a popular thing to do in the midst of a tax revolt.
The proposed $67 million bond issue would be covered in part by proceeds from liquidating the assets of the failed thrifts ($26 million); from the balance in the insolvent private insurance, the ILGC, or Industrial Loan Guaranty Corporation ($4.7 million); from possible claims against the state's liability carriers (amount unknown), and perhaps as much as $30 million or more from state tax funds, although the exact burden on taxpayers would not be known for some time.
Bangerter is not entirely happy with the plan, particularly because he feels it rescues the depositors at too great a cost to taxpayers. If he can find a way to reduce the cost to the state, that would be welcome, but clearly, taxpayers are going to be hit to some extent.
The demand by some depositors that the taxpayers should also shoulder the burden of of paying interest on the depositors' money, and for paying all fees for lawyers hired by depositors would not sit well with many Utahns. As the governor points out, everyone - not just the taxpayers - should share some of the cost of resolving the situation
Money invested in the thrifts was a private financial decision and there is always some risk in such choices. To insist that other taxpayers shell out money so the thrift depositors not only get their original funds back, but make a profit as well, would be hard to sell.
The proposal by the task force appears to be a decent compromise that seeks to do justice to both sides. It should be accepted in that light so that the wounds caused by this unhappy financial failure can have a chance to heal.