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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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  • JSpencer

    I guess we have about 12 inches on the way here. No big deal, gas is in the snowthrower, shovel is at the ready, bizz as usual for February in Michigan. 😉 It’s been a pretty mild winter here so far though.

  • adesnik

    I’m thinking about buying a snowthrower. What’s the deepest snow you can use them on? I guess what I don’t exactly understand is, if the snow is two feet deep, can you run the thrower over the top and it skims of a layer, then run it again on the next layer?

    • JSpencer

      David, my snowthrower is a 2 stage self-propelled walk behind. It handles a 27″ width and a maximum height of close to 24″. When the snow is that deep though, I have to proceed very slowly. If the snow is deeper, the machine will go under it, not over it.

      DLS, once I was living in Austin (back in the early 70’s) when they got close to an inch of snow. Pandemonium ensued.

    • archangel

      david, here in the Rockies, seriously, consider upper body strength if considering a snow blower. Like a roto tiller, like a pneumatic drill… if they have to blow through resistance, you have to hold on to them. Dont believe the hype about ‘self directing’ snowblowers if its more than a few inches of snow. Otherwise, go get ’em tiger!


  • Leonidas

    I’ve heard it costs the taxpayers $200 million when the federal government stays open.

    And on day last year it costs us $787 Billion when it stayed open.

  • DLS

    1. It is far too large, does too much, and costs far too much already — just wait another twenty years.

    2. How many of you would trust current politicians and other people to relocate the federal capital elsewhere, that is closer to the nation’s center of population now and in the future, in the Sun Belt, or to create a winter capital, and reduce or avoid this problem?

  • DLS

    “about 12 inches on the way here. No big deal”

    Even one inch is viewed by many in DC as the equivalent of Hurricane Katrina. (Rushing the stores in advance of forecast winter storms is a hearty tradition there.) And then there’s the problem of people there who don’t know how to drive in snow and ice. [scowl]

  • adesnik

    Not fair! It takes at least four inches of snow for us to declare a national emergency.

  • DLS

    “a 2 stage self-propelled walk behind”

    In Upstate New York, I had fun with a wicked little Tasmanian devil — a single-stage 6.5 HP model.

  • PJBFan

    Just to add in some levity:

    What is the best way to shut down the Federal Government, and cause panic among Congresscritters and Staffers?

    Run into the Cafe in the Capitol and yell “snowflake.”

  • adesnik


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