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Muni bankruptcy? Chicago is not Detroit

Chicago’s finances wouldn’t earn an “A” on anyone’s report card.

The city has borrowed liberally to cover operating expenses, has woefully underfunded its major pension funds and has suffered damage to its all-important credit rating with institutional investors.

Yet even taking into account such fiscal miseries, municipal finance experts contend Chicago is an unlikely candidate to follow Detroit into bankruptcy anytime soon.

For starters, Chicago hasn’t experienced the most severe problems as Detroit, including a steep population decline that has eroded the tax base and drained municipal resources. And Chicago’s financial health isn’t tied to one industry. It enjoys a diverse economy and a deep commercial tax base while Detroit remains heavily dependent on the volatile U.S. auto industry.

However, some municipal finance experts caution that some day Chicago could flirt with Chapter 9 bankruptcy if it fails to curtail heavy borrowing and find an answer to those burdensome pension woes.

By Andrew Schroedter and Patrick Rehkamp