For young Washingtonians, JonasBlizzard was a storm made for Twitter. The potential for pointless pictures — I accept shared culpability here — and pointless videos — again, culpable — was just too great. Much of this social media buzz was about advertising our humorous qualities. But in equal measure, it was also a reaction to our imprisonment in snow. And now that the Snowpocalypse has passed, that imprisonment deserves our policy scrutiny.
Contrary to excited media reports, Jonas was not catastrophic. It was bad, however. At least 31 people lost their lives as a result of the blizzard. Yet compared against the suffering imposed by recent disasters such as Superstorm Sandy or Hurricane Katrina, Snowzilla was relatively insignificant. As such, we should judge local politicians in Washington, D.C., and Arlington County for how they have handled the snow.
From the outset, we should acknowledge that in both D.C. and Arlington, the emergency services have been superb. Any storm is an extraordinary demand on resources and personnel, and our police officers and fire-rescue personnel acquitted themselves with distinction. And they’ve done so with a smile — watch these D.C. Metro Officers play football! Unfortunately, their political masters have not replicated the service of our public servants.
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Aware that a snowstorm was approaching, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and her staff flocked to the airwaves to warn residents to prepare. That was good leadership. Yet once the storm started, the D.C. government predictably failed to deliver on its promises. Instead, politicians began commanding Washingtonians to stay off the roads and hunker down inside. And their hectoring attacks on snowball throwers were distinctly tedious: an idiot could have realized that Washingtonians were going to take advantage of the abundant snow. These politicians should have spent their time hiring private snow-clearing crews (something they should have done ahead of the storm). Regardless, the divergence of New York City on Monday morning and Washington D.C. was most telling.
Where New York City was back in business with offices and schools open and commuter services operating, Washington D.C. was very different. The Metro was on a limited service and both the city and the federal governments were shut down. Put simply, snow had paralyzed the capital of the world’s most powerful nation. Perhaps now ISIS will invest in snowflakes…
Heavy equipment is sued to fill a dump truck with snow as the clearing begins on 15th Street near the White House in Washington, Monday, Jan. 25, 2016. East Coast residents who made the most of a paralyzing weekend blizzard face fresh challenges as the workweek begins: slippery roads, spotty transit service mounds of snow, and closed schools and government offices. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)Heavy equipment removes snow in Washington, D.C. after Winter Storm Jonas. | Photo: AP
The government of Arlington County — one of America’s wealthiest suburbs — also foundered on Monday. Arlington’s government was closed, residential streets remained clogged by impassable snow and citizens were again warned to stay inside. Of course, as good liberals, the government also reminded Arlingtonians that if they failed to clear their sidewalks within 36 hours, they’d face a $100 fine. Arlington County has a known fetish for fines, but it takes a special kind of arrogance to require citizens to clear their sidewalks while the government ignores their roads.
Yet this pathetic response from both Washington D.C.’s government and Arlington County speaks to three broader lessons about liberalism.
First, absent any kind of Republican opposition, the D.C. and Arlington governments lack political impetus to deliver effective services. The local politicians clearly believe that because Washington has traditionally struggled with clearing snow, it should continue struggling with snow. In contrast, New York City’s liberal government is checked by a Republican opposition: Mayor De Blasio knows he must deliver on New Yorker expectations.
Still, the lethargic and arrogant government responses here also illustrate something else: disdain for the private sector. Recognizing their unique goldmine of Federal government employee and contractor wealth — a river of taxpayer money that flows distinct from the ebbing consumer economy — local politicians have little concern about clearing roads and resuming business. They know that the federal tap will be there the day after tomorrow.
Finally, of course, this failed response reminds us that high revenues do not equal good government. After all, consider the fact that Arlington County had a $1.15 billion budget in fiscal year 2015. That’s a big number for a population of around 230,000 — even in the Washington D.C. area. Contemplate the fact that neighboring Alexandria County’s population is 65 percent of Arlington’s, but has a budget only 55 percent of Arlington’s. And get this: last year, Arlington actually ran out of road salt and started using sand (sadly, the county does not accept IOUs as taxes).
But don’t despair. As I noted in 2014, there is at least hope for local government reform.