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Chicago Has Nearly Exhausted Reserves For Snow Removal This Winter

(CBS) -- Going, going … gone. The city's snow-removal budget is under assault by the seventh-snowiest winter ever.

So, how are we going to pay for clearing away the snow and ice from storms still to come?

CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine puts the question to Mayor Emanuel.

In effect, the city's top elected official said, don't worry, even as others are questioning the lack of budgeted reserves for events like this.

"Mother Nature is doing what Mother Nature is doing. But the good news is, Chicago is doing what it needs to do," Emanuel told Levine during a stop on the Southwest Side. "Our streets are plowed and they're passable. We will never come to a standstill, and whether you take public transportation or drive on the roads, we're going to make sure they're plowed, passable and everyone keeps moving."

Emanuel was touring Sara Goode STEM high school, one of five Chicago high schools partnering with corporations like IBM to bring urban education into the 21st century.

Still, the snow issue is hard to ignore. There have been 62 inches in 33 days. The city budgeted $20 million for snow removal and has already spent that, and then dipped into $5 million of a $6.5 million reserve.

Emanuel promises the streets will be cleared and the city will be solvent.

"We'll do it  within a balanced budget," he said.

We asked budget expert Laurence Msall of the Civic Federation how that was possible.

"It's a very large budget, $6 billion," he said. "There's a lot of ways to move money around."

He adds: "If we followed the best practices, we would have a significant amount of money put aside for unexpected contingencies."

Like half-billion dollars or so. But right now, a spokesman from the budget department says depending on how much more snow we get this year, the money will have to be siphoned from other city programs.

In other words: Borrowing from Peter to pay Paul is the best the mayor can do.

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