ECONOMY -- December 29, 2009 at 2:00 PM ET
States Plow Through Snow-Removal Budgets
While it's been barely more than a week since the official start of winter, cash-strapped state and local governments have already plowed through all or most of their available snow-removal budgets, reports the Wall Street Journal.
In Maryland, for example, the State Highway Administration has spent more than $27 million this year on snow removal, mostly to clear away a massive blizzard that hit both the Eastern Seaboard and the Midwest just before Christmas. The agency's annual snow-removal budget, however, is just $26 million.
It costs Delaware between $3.5 million and $4 million to clear every eight inches of snowfall. About 18 inches of snow fell in the run-up to Christmas, exhausting the state's $3.2 million budget for snow removal.
The squeeze comes as more and more states face billions in looming pension payments, as Spencer Michels reported on the NewsHour last week, forcing lawmakers to get creative.
Officials in Colorado have decided to let snow sit overnight on 2,800 miles of sparsely traveled highways to cut down on overtime costs, the Journal reports. Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak has trimmed the city's $8.4 million snow budget to $7 million, in part by reducing its full-time staff of drivers, heavy equipment operators and laborers from 134 to 80.
Cutting budgets can be a political gamble, though, as snow removal is often a critical issue on Election Day. In 1979, for example, a blizzard dumped 20 inches of snow on Chicago, bringing public transportation to a near standstill. Mayor Michael Bilandic was blamed for the botched response, and weeks after the storm he lost the Democratic primary to Jane Byrne.