If Pa. is 'tax heaven,' that explains why it's so white


January 14, 1996|By Brian Sullam

LAST WEEK'S unusually heavy snowfall should temporarily silence people who complain they get nothing from government.

The contrast between the way Maryland and Pennsylvania coped with the snow is the best illustration that when it comes to government service, you get what you pay for.

Granted, the near-record snowfall that paralyzed the East Coast from Richmond to Boston posed an extraordinary challenge for local and state governments. However, those governments with the resources and manpower responded more quickly and efficiently than those without them. To see evidence of this, look no farther than the Mason-Dixon Line.

As soon as the great Blizzard of '96 moved off to the northeast and the skies cleared, motorists brave enough to venture out on Maryland's interstates and primary roads could navigate to the grocery or video stores.

Just north of the border into Pennsylvania, half the roads in that state -- including the Pennsylvania Turnpike -- were closed and traffic was banned. State troopers were stopping motorists and herding them into rest stops.

Even 24 hours after the storm had ended, nonessential traffic was banned from most roads in eastern Pennsylvania. The result was that tens of thousands of businesses were closed. Employees could not come to work, businesses could not get raw materials or deliver their finished goods.

Millions of dollars in revenues and profits were lost because the Pennsylvania state and local governments didn't have sufficient trucks or personnel to clear the roads. The inability of government to deliver a simple, yet fundamental, service hamstrung thousands of companies, big and small, from conducting business.

From press to cycles

From newspapers such as the Philadelphia Inquirer and York Daily Record, who had their reporters and photographers pulled off the roads and then could not deliver their newspapers on Monday because their delivery trucks were deemed non-essential, to Harley-Davidson, which lost at least one day, possibly two, of production at its York plant, the lack of snowplowing was devastating.

Inadequate public service will have a big negative impact on these firms' bottom lines. Harley-Davidson has a huge backlog of orders for its motorcycles, and will have to put on extra shifts and pay overtime to make up for the lost production.

In many ways, government is like an insurance policy. Most people don't appreciate its value until they need it, particularly when it comes to dealing with out-of-the-ordinary events. How many people complain when they pay their homeowner's policy and secretly feel they aren't getting their money's worth from the premiums? It's when fire damages the house or a burglar breaks in and makes off with valuables that the policy looks like a bargain.

On any given day, many people use may not use a fraction of the services government offers. At most, they may drive on the roads or drink a glass of water from a municipal system. Government hardly seems like money well spent under those circumstances.

When government's a bargain

But let it snow and all of a sudden a well-staffed, well-equipped and well-prepared government becomes a bargain and, in some cases, a life-saver.

As many people witnessed several days last week, impassable roads prevented emergency vehicles from getting to fires and people in need of medical assistance. At least one Woodbine house suffered extensive damage because it took an hour for the fire equipment to get to the house.

Even though federal, state and county governments and thousands of businesses were closed in Maryland earlier last week, most of those offices and businesses were able to reopen much earlier than those just north of the Mason-Dixon line.

Digging out will take a long time in Pennsylvania because the state and local governments find themselves with insufficient resources. Gov. Tom Ridge blamed the intensity of the storm, but considering that Maryland had about as much snow as Pennsylvania, that explanation doesn't wash.

When natural disasters strike, the task of cleaning up and rebuilding falls to government. No other entity in our society is equal to the task. Without county and state snowplows, residents of Carroll County might have ended up like our unfortunate neighbors in Pennsylvania.

It is true that many Carroll residents could not leave their neighborhoods because roads were impassable, but by Tuesday morning most of the main thoroughfares had at least one lane open and were passable.

Many Pennsylvanians love to congratulate themselves for living in a "low tax" state and look with disdain at those of us who live in a so-called "tax hell," but that self-congratulatory glow won't melt the snow or plow the roads.

That's something to think about the next time you are driving around on Maryland roads hours after a record snowfall and hear some talk-show host denigrate government as worthless.

Brian Sullam is The Sun's editorial writer in Carroll County.

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