This column was submitted to LebTown. Read our submission policy here.
Decisions that have been made over the past month will have consequences for years to come. The haphazard manner in which these decisions are being made should concern every single citizen of this Commonwealth. The arbitrary nature in which businesses have been prohibited/allowed to operate is an exercise in miscommunication, dysfunction and ambiguity.
Since March 17, 2020 businesses such as auto dealerships, real-estate agencies and residential construction projects have been stalled. Given just three hours warning before the closure went into place, business owners and employees had the proverbial ‘rug pulled out from beneath them’. No consultation, no discussion, no initial waiver process. Self-employed individuals have waited over a month to apply for any benefits, on a website that wasn’t ready for rollout, and the backend won’t be ready for another two weeks. Wolf has retreated to his home, while others don’t know how they will pay the bills for their homes, or how they will put food on their tables. It’s gotten to the point that yesterday, April 20, thousands of people protested, FOR THE RIGHT TO WORK.
As of April 19, there were 1,525,458 unemployment compensation (UC) claims since March 15 in Pennsylvania, far ahead of any other state in the Union. For reference, Pennsylvania only had 775,000 claims during 2019. Goldman Sachs analysts have forecasted that the number of unemployed in the United States could reach 37 million by the end of May. The International Monetary Fund has warned of the worst global recession since the Great Depression.
With over 1.5 million UC claims over the last month, Pennsylvanians are feeling the effects of Governor Wolf’s 2016 decision to lay off nearly 500 Labor & Industry employees and close three UC call centers. Even the president of SEIU Local 668, Steve Catanese, agrees that the system has never recovered from those cuts in 2016, as reported by Spotlight PA.
Additionally, under the guise of ‘public health’, Wolf has decided to release up to 1,800 prisoners from STATE prison. As I was previously the Lebanon County District Attorney for 14 years, I believe the prisoner release is in poor judgement and short-sighted, as it is an attempt to bypass the legislature. While the General Assembly has been meeting regularly to address the concerns of the citizens, the leader of the Executive Branch, a co-equal branch of government, is unwilling to discuss these concerns with us, and has unilaterally acted without consultation from the legislative body.
So where do we go from here?
A starting point would’ve been to sign SB 613 (Mensch), which would have responsibly reopened the economy in PA. SB 613 would’ve allowed businesses listed as essential by the Department of Homeland Security to reopen if they followed strict Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) health and safety considerations. The health and safety of workers was paramount in this legislation. People need to continue to social distance and take other precautions to ensure we are limiting exposure. That is what SB 613 would’ve done.
Too bad Wolf vetoed this legislation yesterday. Pennsylvania is now left with one of the strictest shutdown orders in the nation. Maybe that’s why we’re expecting a $4 billion shortfall in revenue according to the state’s Independent Fiscal Office (IFO). Matthew Knittle, the Director of the IFO, recently stated these numbers were “cautiously optimistic” and “taxpayers should be prepared for a significant reduction in state resources.” UC payments from State Government, according to a recent IFO report, will range from $4.5 to $6 billion, by themselves.
Last week Governor Wolf told the citizens that he had a ‘plan’. Well, a plan is a detailed proposal for doing or achieving something, or an intention or decision about what one is going to do. What he laid out were talking points that didn’t amount to much, other than, ‘Just trust me. I’ll tell you my plan when I’m ready.’ Except, in Phase III of his plan, Wolf clearly outlines his desire for a $15 minimum wage. At a time like this, when Wolf’s policies are permanently shutting business, he certainly hasn’t missed a good opportunity to exploit the emergency declaration.
The people are angry. The people are worried. The people want definitive answers for how they are going to feed their children and how they will pay their rent, mortgage and put gas in their vehicles. They’ve wanted a plan for nearly 35 days. They’ve waited and waited, and have been met with eloquent talking points and told to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ twice when washing hands, as if counting to 20 is too hard.
Finally, if this exercise isn’t reason for Pennsylvania to remove itself from the wine and spirits business, nothing will ever be done.
The people are sick and tired of heavy-handed bureaucrats. They want their freedom back.
State Sen. Dave Arnold represents the 48th senatorial district, which includes Lebanon County.