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MN2020 Journal: A Simple Winter Truth

January 01, 2010 By John R. Van Hecke, Executive Director & Fellow
Today, I seem to live on Lake Superior's shore. I don't, of course, but judging from the huge piles of jagged snow banks lining my street, they could be broken lake ice sheets shoved ashore. I am not alone; every street looks like mine.

Nothing out of the ordinary happened last week because this is winter in Minnesota. We experienced a substantial, two-part blizzard roaring across much of our state. During the lull following the first heavy, wet snow fall, most people, shoveling their walks and driveways, correctly anticipated the other shoe dropping.

Slush freezes.

When the storm's second wave arrived, that's exactly what happened. Most cities declared a Christmas day snow emergency. Here, in St Paul, we experienced unusually high parking restriction compliance. Everyone moved their cars. The snow plows rolled and by 3:30pm, my street was fully plowed. Then, without fail, the temperature dropped a little further, freezing the slush.

We're only a modestly-trafficked block so ours is a two rather than a three rut street. The lake shore ice effect narrows driving width, further slowing traffic.

Press accounts report that St Paul experienced a forty percent snow equipment breakdown during the snow emergency, largely if not entirely due to the craggy, frozen slush. The final numbers aren't in but a million and a half bucks will likely be St Paul's cost. Maybe, if we're lucky, a bit less.

St Paul, like every Minnesota city, struggles to adapt citizen service demands with a shrinking budget. No department is immune. Budgets cuts translate into straightforward service reductions. As a practical, street winter maintenance matter, this means that my street probably won't see another snow plow until the next emergency.

I live on a side street, not an arterial, so I'm not surprised but I'm also not thrilled. Hoping that Minnesota experiences a sustained midwinter warm-up, melting icy ruts and clearing side streets, is as impractical as hoping that Minnesota forgoes further blizzards. This is the Midwest after all and, most likely, those developments just aren't in the cards.

Consequently, sitting in my house, staring at my ice-rutted street, I'm not feeling liberty's warm glow. Conservative public policy advocates, quick to declare any government role as bestial, wasteful and a worthy target of elimination, remind us that we're freer with less government.

Less government means less snow plowing. Less snow plowing means restricted travel.  Restricting public access and right of way diminishes opportunity. I don't mean to get all rhetorically tautological but less snow plowing isn't making me freer.

For reasons completely unclear to me, a great many conservatives seem dissatisfied with their lives. Rather than contemplate this discontent's source, they seem to find comfort in simple solutions. Government, because it pursues multiple tasks and objectives, all at citizen direction, is an easy target.

Conservatives regularly attack government, assigning every public ill to its shortcomings, over reach or both. Blizzards bring the whole hypocrisy into focus.

Conservatives are no less inconvenienced by reduced public services than the rest of us. What they really want are well-plowed streets and roads but with someone else paying the bill. The conservative public policy framework isn't a paradox at all; rather, it's an expression of greed. Conservative rhetoric distracts public attention from the central issue. Principled opposition is suddenly revealed as a simple desire to enjoy publicly provided benefits without sharing the community's cost providing them.

Living in Minnesota means living with winter; no reasonable Minnesotans pretends otherwise. We're actually pretty good at not kidding ourselves about important stuff.

Don't be distracted, Minnesota. Stay focused on what really matters: education, health care, transportation and economic development. Conservative public policy claims public virtue when, in truth, it fronts for narrow, selfish interests. Liberty is advanced by strong public schools; affordable health care; a robust transportation infrastructure; and a growing, job producing economy. Liberty advances opportunity rather than restrict it.

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