Chicago’s Debt Time Bomb

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - Commentary

by Daniel Nardini

Regardless of who wins the Chicago mayoral election, the person chosen will have to face a whole list of problems in the city. These problems are a rising crime rate, rising homicides, gang violence, the city’s pension problem, rising property taxes, and the city’s infrastructure falling apart. But the city’s debt, now standing at $63 billion, is the worst of any major metropolitan area in the nation with the exception of Detroit. Resolving the city’s debt, plus trying to drastically reform the city’s pension system, are at the heart of trying to fix Chicago.

When one looks at the city’s debt, it comes down to $23,000 per city resident, or $61,000 per Chicago household. Resolving the city’s pension system would help go a ways in solving the debt problem, but this alone may not be enough. There may have to be cuts (or more cuts) in funding for schools, social services, and in the police and fire emergency services. Yes, property taxes may also have to be raised. But raising property taxes will only provide so much revenue for fixing Chicago debt, and higher property rates may simply force residents to flee Chicago. Since 1992, 800,000 Chicago residents have left. This would leave more abandoned properties—a solution that will only work against Chicago.

But the alternative to not doing anything about Chicago’s debt is that it will force the city into declaring bankruptcy. We have seen this happen already in Detroit. Declaring bankruptcy meant not being able to have a police or fire service. Declaring bankruptcy meant being unable to stop the decay that had caused whole neighborhoods in Detroit to become abandoned ruins. This can be in store for Chicago if belt tightening is not done across aboard. Cutting the city’s debt will, I am sorry to say, hurt the poor as well as the rich and everything in-between. Great campaign slogans and promises for a brighter future for Chicago are all nice and good, but really tough choices are going to have to be made for the nitty-gritty of resolving Chicago’s debt time bomb. In this, I do not envy the next Chicago mayor.

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