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Our View: Rearranging deck chairs

Published: Friday, Dec. 21, 2012 5:30 a.m. CDT

As the RMS Titanic, stricken by a 1912 collision with an iceberg, took on water, this frivolous conversation likely did not take place:

“By Jove, let’s ask the crew to rearrange the deck chairs, shall we?”

Financially, the SS Illinois is in no better condition.

The state has taken on enormous debt. Government habitually spends more money than it takes in. Billions of dollars in bills can’t be paid on time. Hundreds of employees have been laid off. The state owes tens of billions of dollars to its pension system.

Like a sinking ship, Illinois faces urgent problems. They must be dealt with to ensure the state’s survival.

And yet, some legislators are content to spend precious time on bills that have nothing to do with rescuing the state from financial doom.

We wonder, for example, why the Legislature dealt with a bill this year that would have created a statewide recycling program for plastic bags used by retailers and customers.

Of course, it would be nice to resolve problems caused by misuse of the bags. The bill would have required plastic bag manufacturers to set up the recycling program. It had the potential to reduce the number of bags that end up in landfills or along roadsides.

Gov. Pat Quinn vetoed the bill. The Senate took up the matter in the recent veto session but failed to override Quinn’s veto. Therefore, no new recycling program for plastic bags is in Illinois’ immediate future.

Did the Legislature just demonstrate a whiff of common sense in a crisis? If so, we’d like to see more.

Just as passengers and crew of the doomed Titanic didn’t busy themselves rearranging the deck chairs, Illinois’ legislators should not busy themselves with relatively frivolous issues while state finances sink further into debt and despair.

An overwhelming threat is the billions owed to the state’s pension system. That and other urgent financial woes are what Illinois leaders should address, first and foremost.

The lame-duck legislative session in early January and the new session, which convenes shortly thereafter, should focus exclusively on sealing the holes in Illinois’ financial hull and bringing the ship safely into port.

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