Op-Ed by Commonwealth Partners Board Member David Hogg.
Governor Tom Wolf is bringing to life the maxim: Never let a good crisis go to waste. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, Wolf wants to roll out a new program that will cripple the state financially and supposedly fix a problem the governor himself is causing.
Through his “Commonwealth Civilian Coronavirus Corps,” (CCCC) a callback to FDR’s Civilian Conservation Corps, Wolf proposes putting some of the 1.7 million unemployed Pennsylvanians on the state’s payroll to “increase testing and engage in contact tracing,” to combat COVID-19.
The proposal is at best misguided, and at worst kneecaps the state financially at the expense of Pennsylvanians. It’s also contradictory. State Representative Torren Ecker (Adams and Cumberland counties) commented, “Nearly two million Pennsylvanians already have jobs, but the governor is not allowing them to go safely back to work.”
Wolf has instituted a three-phase plan that ties businesses’ ability to re-open to metrics that remain unclear. Those who disobey could face loss of licenses, then these business owners and their employees—or former employees given how many have lost jobs— could be forced to foot the bill for the CCCC!
Wolf defends his stance in terms of public safety. In doing so, he has accused his opposition of ‘surrendering to the enemy’. It’s a flimsy high ground—even Wolf’s biggest detractors want people healthy as they return to work.
Indeed, those who speak out against Wolf have myriad reasons including worry about the economic impact of his sweeping plans, concern about rising drug overdoses triggered by isolation, and alarm that deaths from other causes such as cancerwill spike due to individuals delaying treatments.
The disagreement on re-opening is not over the goal but over how to get there.
Unfortunately, Wolf’s CCCC is a dangerous proposal wrapped in the cloak of assistance.
Historically, power grabs have come during times of unrest, when people are more likely to exchange freedom for an uncertain safety. Today, critics have already pointed to China and some U.S states that have expanded governmental powers as a primary response to the pandemic.
Some critics even claim the pandemic has “provided cover for authoritarian regimes around the world looking to consolidate their power domestically under the pretext of taking on temporary emergency powers.”
Governor Wolf’s power grab is more of the same. He recently cemented his power to continue the lockdown and pursue his agenda when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to lift his stay at home order on May 6. And when multiple counties across the state made a move to re-open in defiance of Wolf’s order, he retaliated by threatening to withdraw funding from counties and yank licenses from businesses.
Business owners and their staffs across Pennsylvania are best suited to make decisions for their business. These decisions should not come from a bureaucrat’s edict—particularly as we now know that bureaucrat has eschewed consultation with any business organizations before demanding their closures.
Gov. Wolf proffers his CCCC as a solution, but it would come at enormous cost and fall far short of solving the problem. Unfortunately, even Wolf doesn’t know how big his program would be or how much it would cost, but he wants it to be “a big deal.” And big deals mean big price tags.
The truth is, Pennsylvania’s economic woes can be fixed only by re-opening our businesses across the state.
Limiting who can re-open while giving special treatment to government programs will be costly in the short-term and long-term. Loss of revenue during Wolf’s drawn out color-coded re-opening means some businesses might never re-open, because they won’t survive long enough. Businesses that do survive will face the financial burden of paying for the CCCC and the other programs the Wolf administration supports.
Pennsylvania under Wolf’s leadership has already failed to prepare for this exact situation, despite warnings. Closed business means lower tax revenue. Pennsylvania has the third worst rainy day fund in the country. Keep an eye out for tax hike proposals, extravagant borrowing, or the necessary shuttering of services from the state.
The solution is simple: we don’t need Harrisburg to come up with new programs, we need Harrisburg to get out of the way and let us get back to work.
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David Hogg is founder and CEO of a hospitality development and management company. He is a trustee of Commonwealth Partners Chamber of Entrepreneurs.