The snow week in February has consumed a small lake of press ink, and nothing has gotten more attention than the skill, or lack thereof, of the Mayor to clear it from the roads. The obsession with plowing has obscured a much larger issue: how will the District pay for all those trucks on the road?
The tens of millions of dollars in extra expense for snow removal could not come at a worse time. The District is facing a budget shortfall over the next two fiscal years of $500 million. If the past is any guide, the District’s budget will be balanced by cutting services to vulnerable citizens: those living in poverty, the elderly, children and persons with disabilities.
Cuts to social welfare programs are especially harsh this year. Unemployment in some wards approaches 30%, recent studies reveal a spike in childhood hunger, there is an unprecedented affordable housing crisis and the District has among the lowest welfare payments in the country.
When faced with a similar budget crisis last summer, the District chose to cut programs and impose only a nominal tax increase. In contrast to the Council’s reluctance to increase revenue, Steven Pearlstein suggested in his Washington Post column that there be a new snow removal tax to create a several hundred million dollar plowing fund.
A tax increase for snow removal may or may not be a good idea, but an increase to ensure that the social safety net remains intact merits consideration. Wouldn’t it make more sense if we measured the success of government by whether every child is housed and fed and everyone who wants to work has a job, rather than how quickly snow is plowed.