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National Editorials & Columns

Capitol door project deserves knocks

By now, the whole country knows that Illinois’ finances are the worst of any state in the nation, driven largely by a public employee pension fund that is underfunded by $100 billion.

But it seems the leadership in the Illinois General Assembly thinks it has money to burn.

How else does one explain last week’s revelation that the state had paid nearly $670,000 for three sets of copper-plated wooden doors to be fabricated and installed at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield?

The doors were custom-made to resemble the building’s original oak and black walnut doors, which had bronze ornamentation. The ornate doors are part of a $50 million renovation of the Capitol, a National Historic Landmark.

The renovation is being paid for by construction bonds that were part of a $31 billion capital construction program approved by the General Assembly. The doors are part of an effort to restore the building – a popular site for tourists and other visitors – to its “historically significant period.”

Now to be sure, Illinoisans are justifiably proud of the state’s history, and a tour of the Capitol is a highlight for schoolchildren, as well as for tourists who come to Springfield to learn more about Abraham Lincoln and Illinois’ past.

However, when your state is billions of dollars in debt, owing money to vendors and other service providers and unable to meet its statutory requirements for funding public education, it’s important to prioritize spending. And while $670,000 is a drop in the bucket compared to the state’s budget deficit, it’s the principle and the example that matters.

A $50 million renovation of its Capitol at a time when Illinois’ credit rating is the worst of any state seems like a bad idea. Proponents of the project argue that the historical building’s infrastructure needs an upgrade, but the same could be said of roads and bridges throughout the state.

But the doors? Well, they are replacing modern doors made of glass and metal. Wouldn’t it have been a better use of taxpayer funds to keep those doors for now, while the state is trying to find solutions to its pressing debt problem, until perhaps Illinois is in a better position to afford the ornate portals?

The new doors are expected to last about 30 years, but officials said they will turn a dark brown in a matter of months. Unfortunately, it’s hard to see how Illinois can dig itself out of the fiscal hole it has created, even in 30 more years – that is, unless until our lawmakers, elected officials and bureaucrats can get it through their heads that their first priority should be to get the state’s financial affairs in order.

We hope the voters make sure those who don’t understand that won’t be returning to the Capitol after next year’s election. Maybe then those lawmakers will figure out that renovating their workplace was not as important as paying the state’s bills. And by the way, don’t let those $670,000 doors hit you on your way out.

The (Alton) Telegraph

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