Either the Washington, DC area needs to learn how to cope with serious snow storms, or maybe we should move the capitol to the Midwest, where we've been dealing effectively with massive snow storms for decades (and we're not such weather wimps in general). Bottom line: time for the DC area to snowman up.
So far this week, snow has closed the Federal Government for three full days. Each day the Federal Government is closed, it costs the taxpayers $100 million in lost productivity. So far that's a cool $300 million.
Now there is no question that this week's storms have been serious from anyone's point of view. It is refered to locally as a "snowpocalypse". As I look out of the window of my DC office, snow is still coming down pretty briskly as I write. But coming from the Midwest where it snows all the time, it's pretty clear to me that the reason the government had to close Monday and Tuesday of this week was entirely because the Washington, DC area is unprepared to cope with large quantities of snow. The first storm ended Saturday night. But by Monday morning - 36 hours after the snow had stopped -- many residents of the area were still virtual prisoners in their homes. Side streets had not been plowed. Some main streets in the suburbs were impassable - others had only one lane plowed.
It wasn't because local officials weren't trying. There simply aren't enough plows or enough crews to deal with heavy snow. Some might argue that the infrequency of heavy snow in the DC area just isn't worth the price. But how many $100 million days do you need to pay for a significant increase in the snow removal fleet?
DC's snow removal budget for this season was $6.2 million. Chicago's budget, where the city does a very good job of dealing with large snow falls, is only three times greater -- $17.2 million. Of course three decades ago a Chicago Mayor was defeated for reelection because he botched snow removal in a major storm. That tends to focus the minds of public officials.
There is little question that the DC area has experienced wide variations in snowfall. In recent years it ranged from 3.2 inches of snow (2001-02) to 40.4 inches (2004-05). Last weekend a single storm dropped two feet of snow. But remember - one day of the Federal Government being closed costs $100 million in lost productivity. And this doesn't count the massive losses associated with closing the schools - thereby forcing parents to stay home from work - and absenteeism at private businesses.
In other words, for every day the Federal Government closes because of snow, we could pay for 16 years of the current DC snow removal budget. The productivity lost during the three days the Federal Government has been closed this week is equivalent to 48 years of the DC snow removal budget.
Of course inadequate snow removal in DC proper is only part of the problem. In the suburbs the problem is far worse. But, even after you figure that we need to increase expenditures both in DC and the suburbs, the economic argument for assuring that the DC area is prepared for snow is obviously a no-brainer. And much of the increase should come from the Federal Government - which would be the principal beneficiary of adequate snow removal.
Of course you can just hear the Republicans complaining that they don't want to pay the taxes for more plows and salt trucks. This is a perfect example of where ideologically-rooted unwillingness to invest in public sector activity costs everyone many times over. Congressman Barney Frank defines "government" as the things we choose to do together. Snow removal on our streets and sidewalks is certainly one of those things - and if we do it well, it benefits everyone - both in convenience and in our pocketbooks.
While we're on the subject of ideologically-based Republican falsehoods, we should give honorable mention to the TV spot that the Virginia Republican Party ran in the districts of Tom Perriello, D-Ivy, and Rick Boucher, D-Abingdon--bashing them for voting in favor of the cap-and-trade climate change legislation that passed the House last year.
The spot, titled "12 Inches of Global Warming" urges viewers to "call Boucher and Perriello and tell them how much global warming you got this weekend." They seem to believe that more snow somehow implies that there is no climate change. Of course, many climatologists argue that just the opposite is true. They say that one of the major effects of climate change is altering weather patterns - generating more rain and snow in some areas, creating deserts in previously wet sections of the country, and more violent storms in general.
But whether it's about the importance of public investment, or the effects of climate change, the Republican slogan machine never lets the facts get in the way.
Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategist, and author of the recent book: Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win, available on Amazon.com.
Follow Robert Creamer on Twitter: www.twitter.com/rbcreamer