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Workers with the Baton Rouge roofing and sheet metal company Cribbs Inc. work Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2019 on building a steel-reinforced covered walkway over the front entrance to the Louisiana State Capitol. The covered walkway is a short term solution to the problem of falling pieces of mortar coming down from the 86-year-old building, until money can be found for to pay for remediation work on the building.

At the State Capitol these days, there’s an “outward and visible sign,” as the old Baltimore catechism used to put it, of a much deeper problem.

Visitors can now see the steel-covered walkway being installed at the State Capitol to protect visitors from getting plunked in the head by mortar chunks falling off the 86-year-old building.

It’s a vivid testament to the backlog of deferred maintenance plaguing state government.

There’s never enough money to fix anything, and politicians looking for attractive legacies often prefer to build new stuff rather than caring for what’s already around.

It’s why fixing things — not just something as prominent as the State Capitol, but ordinary things like college buildings and roads and sidewalks — seems to always take a back seat to other projects.

In Baton Rouge, the state doesn’t have the $40 million to $60 million necessary to fix the disintegrating mortar and fixtures that hold about 8,500 limestone panels, each weighing more than a ton, to the steel skeleton of the 34-story capitol.

The current plan is to erect what officially is called a “temporary protective structure” that will shelter visitors from falling building bits.

The steel shelter will allow the main entrance to reopen in February after being closed nearly three years ago because of safety concerns. Except for a narrow passage to the top of the “monumental stairway,” the granite steps, each engraved with the name of a U.S. state, will be mostly closed and barricaded.

That’s not good news for tourism in Baton Rouge, since the tower that Huey P. Long built is something that visitors to the city want to see. The larger issue of deferred maintenance problem is something that candidates for governor and Legislature should be questioned about this year.

Is there going to be a willingness to raise money to pay for the deteriorating roads and bridges in the state? The state gasoline tax hasn’t been raised in 30 years, and it now pays for about half the work that it did in the 1980s. That’s another obvious case of deferring the pain of a tax increase by increasing the pain of bad roads for motorists.

To give credit where it is due, Gov. John Bel Edwards and the Legislature have wrestled with these problems in a small way. The state’s colleges and universities have nearly $2 billion of deferred maintenance projects, such as roofs that need to be replaced, classrooms that need to be cooled, and leaks that need to be stopped in libraries. At the governor's request, there has been more emphasis on college repairs, but not enough money is available.

Which is why the State Capitol, erected as a source of pride and progress, is now a case study in shameful neglect.