Gov. Tom Wolf, as Sen. John Gordner (R-Columbia) recently pointed out, unwittingly made the best argument for approval of the constitutional amendments on tomorrow’s ballot, placing a checks-and-balances limit on his emergency powers.
“Soon after he created the vaccine task force, Pennsylvania went from 49th on the list in effectiveness in rolling out the vaccine to first,” Gordner said at last week’s Monthly Business Briefing hosted by the PMA and the PA Chamber of Business and Industry. “It was a direct result of involving the legislature in a bipartisan effort of people working together.”
Gordner added that he believed the governor’s impetus for creating the task force was likely pressure felt after legislative approval of the ballot questions – also in February. Even so, it quickly became evident that he wasn’t about to make a habit out of reaching out.
His Department of State twisted the language of the questions to mislead voters into thinking the amendments do the opposite of their intent; and that is giving the General Assembly a say in the length of time the governor can call all the shots in a declared emergency – especially when determining best practices to battle whatever the threat facing Pennsylvanians.
The governor continues to mislead the public regarding the intent of the questions. In Pittsburgh last week, he characterized the General Assembly’s move as, “politicizing disaster response.”
State Rep. Seth Grove (R-York), the other guest at the monthly briefing, said he has never seen the Department of State slant language to achieve a desired result; one in this instance that would maintain the governor’s grip on absolute power. But he doesn’t believe the voters will buy it.
“The voters in my district are saying they won’t let Wolf sway them from restoring the checks and balances enshrined in the constitution,” Grove said. “The people need a voice. Unilateral power has caused too much harm to them and the economy.”
The harm started early in the pandemic with arbitrary closures of businesses, without consideration of the impact their closures would have on other businesses and jobs. Grove said that in his district a paper plant made the list to stay open but other businesses critical in its supply chain were ordered closed.
“We had some very bad decisions made by someone operating in a vacuum,” he said.
PMA President & CEO David N. Taylor added that the governor’s moves were, “inexcusable.”
“He refused to get input from stakeholders about how critical the supply chain was in keeping business open and people working,” Taylor said.
Almost every other state relied on federal guidelines for businesses closures established by the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). But the Wolf Administration never presented any rationale for its decisions on businesses, and many were bewildering. Pennsylvania, for instance, was the only state to halt all outdoor construction projects and end car sales.
Thousands of businesses closed. Tens of thousands of people were thrown out of work. The balance in the state’s unemployment compensation plummeted from being 200 percent funded to $1.4 billion in the red.
Now, as we emerge from the pandemic, the jobs are available but not being filled. Gordner said there are four thousand job openings in his district, but they are being filled at a rate of just a few hundred per week.
The incentive to return to the workforce isn’t there with enhanced governmental benefits for those remaining on the sidelines. This, while the Wolf administration recently announced that the suspension of work search requirements, suspended by the legislature through 2020 and then extended by executive branch, would stay in place until September.
One of the constitutional amendments would require legislative approval for the extension of a disaster declaration beyond 21 days. Currently, a governor can issue a 90-day emergency disaster declaration and renew it an unlimited number of times without legislative input.
A second proposed amendment empowers the General Assembly to terminate a governor’s disaster declaration with a majority vote in both chambers.
As Gordner correctly asserted, emergency powers were intended to allow the governor to marshal resources to a region of the state hit hard by a flood, snowstorm, or other natural disaster. But the governor used the law to seize power at the onset of the pandemic and held onto it with repeated extensions of his emergency declaration. Without legislative input, there is no end in sight.
This is not a Republican or Democrat issue. This is not “politicizing disaster response.” This is a legislative solution to a problem that has been uncovered because of the continued botched handling of the COVID-19 pandemic by the Wolf Administration with no oversight. But in uncovering this problem, the General Assembly and now the electorate can respond so that no administration, of any political party, can seize this level of control for this long again.
The primary election is tomorrow. Republicans and Democrats will select their candidates in Judiciary and local elections. But Republicans, Democrats, and registered Independents will all have the opportunity to vote on four ballot question – and the Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association urges you to “VOTE YES” on May 18.
Visit https://www.voteyespa.com/ for information on the ballot questions and to find your polling place.