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Saying 'no' to snow dough


By refusing to sign a letter to President Clinton requestin federal assistance to pay for snow removal after the blizzard, Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett adhered to his political ideology to reduce federal spending. In his zeal, however, Mr. Bartlett may not have been thinking of the best interests of his constituents.

Mr. Bartlett, along with Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, his GOP colleague from the Eastern Shore who also refused to sign the letter, believe that the federal government's emergency aid programs fall into that category.

Credit Congressmen Bartlett and Gilchrest for this: Unlike some conservatives who love to condemn federal spending in the abstract but fight ferociously for every federal dollar that flows into their districts, they had the fortitude to say "no" to funds that would supplement depleted state and local snow removal budgets in their areas.

To some extent, however, the two engaged in some easy political grandstanding, because their protests didn't cost Maryland any money. President Clinton declared an emergency three days after the storm, and the state will be receiving about $20 million anyway.

Certainly, a typical winter storm -- a light dusting which nevertheless immobilizes the snow-phobic Baltimore and Washington areas -- doesn't reach a level that would rate federal aid. The blizzard of March 13, though, smothered the entire East Coast in white stuff and was of a magnitude to qualify for emergency assistance under a 20-year-old law. When storms overwhelm local and state emergency services, those lTC governments can obtain federal money to ensure an effective cleanup. In essence, the program acts like an insurance policy for state and local governments faced with extraordinary snow removal costs.

If the hard-hit counties of Western Maryland, which Mr. Bartlett represents along with western Howard County, had not received financial help from Washington, they would have drastically overspent their snow removal budgets. That money would have come out of next year's road budgets, which would mean that there would be less money for routine road repairs and upgrading in the counties not receiving federal aid.

While it is true that too many state and local officials look upon Washington as "Uncle Sugar," in this case Mr. Bartlett's ideology may have blinded him to the fiscal crunch created by the memorable blizzard of '93.

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