By refusing to sign a letter to President Clinton requestin federal assistance to pay for snow removal after the recent blizzard, Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett adhered to his political ideology to reduce federal spending. However in his zeal, 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 assistance 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, though, the two engaged in political grandstanding because their protests didn't cost Maryland a nickel. President Clinton declared an emergency three days after the storm, and the state will be receiving about $20 million.
Certainly, a typical Maryland winter storm -- a light dusting which nevertheless immobilizes the snow-phobic Baltimore and Washington areas -- doesn't reach a level to rate federal aid. The blizzard of March 13, however, smothered the entire East Coast in white stuff and was of such a magnitude to qualify for emergency assistance under a 20-year-old law. When storms overwhelm local and state emergency services, those governments can obtain federal money to ensure an effective cleanup. The program acts like an insurance policy for state and local agencies faced with extraordinary acts of nature for which they can't possibly plan.
If the hard-hit counties of Western Maryland, which Mr. Bartlett represents, had not received federal assistance, they would have drastically overspent their snow removal funds. That money would have come out of next year's road budget, meaning there would be less money for routine road repairs and upgrading.
While it is true that too many state and local officials consider the federal government to be "Uncle Sugar," in this case Mr. Bartlett's ideology may have blinded him to the fiscal crunch created by the blizzard of '93.