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Posted by on Feb 9, 2010 in Society | 11 comments

Snow days are evil

Not completely evil. I dialed in to a two-hour conference call from home, which meant I could visit the refrigerator at lunchtime instead of waiting until the call ended to go down the cafeteria. But according to Matt Yglesias, it costs the taxpayers $100 million when the federal government has to shut down because of snowfall. (I’ve heard it costs the taxpayers $200 million when the federal government stays open.)

Seriously, why doesn’t the federal government help DC get ready for the snow if each day lost is so expensive? Matt writes,

It seems like it would make a great deal of sense for the federal government to pay for some investments—do something to make [the] Metro [subway system] more robust to snowstorms, for example. The way the system works now even two days after an enormous snowfall all of the above-ground stations are closed and even the below-ground stations in the core are running on massive delays.

I wonder if the problem is that the costs of a shutdown are spread across too many agencies. Matt doesn’t provide a link, so I’m not sure where his $100 million estimate comes from. But I’d be curious to know how much of that is actually a cash loss, versus how much is simply the cost of paying salaries for workers who have to stay at home. If the latter, it would explain why the government doesn’t do much. After a snow day, people catch up on their work. Sure, there’s some inefficiency, but no one really feels the loss.

If the feds actually transferred tens of millions of dollars a year to the DC government to handle the snow, that would involve an actual loss of funds that could be allocated for something else. In contrast, the money for salaries is already committed and can’t be spent on anything else.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly

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