News & Brews February 23, 2021
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Another Wolf press conference, another tax hike demand
Lately it’s like clockwork: Gov Wolf holds a press conference. Gov. Wolf pitches some sort of tax hike. Yesterday, it was his “Back to Work PA” plan, which according to Wolf is “a comprehensive, forward-thinking plan to jumpstart our economy and support our workforce.” The catch? It’s based on a tax hike, as Wolf renewed his annual pitch for a new severance tax on the natural gas industry. Of course, the name of his plan is suspect to begin with, as the only reason Pennsylvanians need to get “back to work” is that Wolf put millions of Pennsylvanians out of work.
SCOTUS won’t hear PA election cases
The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday declined to hear three cases challenging various aspects of our election process, specifically the creation of no-excuse mail-in voting and the Department of State’s rewriting of election law to extend the deadline for mail-in ballots to be received. Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch dissented, with Thomas writing, “That decision (by state officials and the courts) to rewrite the rules seems to have affected too few ballots to change the outcome of any federal election. But that may not be the case in the future. These cases provide us with an ideal opportunity to address just what authority non-legislative officials have to set election rules, and to do so well before the next election cycle. The refusal to do so is inexplicable.” Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal Editorial Board called the decision “a missed opportunity to prevent future mischief” (paywall).
PA GOP to meet to discuss Toomey censure
The AP reports that Republican committee members across PA are slated to meet tomorrow evening to discuss whether to censure Sen. Pat Toomey for his vote to convict former President Trump. Irrespective of what the state party decides, some county parties have already moved forward with their own censure.
PA GOP has lost 19,000 voters since Capitol attacks
While some party defections on both sides are typical, an “unusually high” number of nearly 19,000 PA Republicans have left the party since the January 6 Capitol riots, the Inquirer reports. Also unusual is that voters leaving the Republican Party outnumbered voters leaving the Democrat Party, a “stark reversal” from previous years. Whether this is a blip or the start of a new trend remains to be seen.
DCED head “gets an earful” on COVID business closures
Yesterday during a budget hearing, lawmakers questioned Department of Community and Economic Development Secretary Dennis Davin on the debacle of Gov. Wolf’s shutdowns and waiver process, which everyone now knows were haphazard, unequally applied, and unilaterally implemented. Davin defended the Wolf administration’s actions, stating, “You might not agree with it, but the reality is we reviewed 42,000 [waiver] applications in two weeks and we gave 22,000 businesses the ability to continue to remain open.” While several lawmakers asked great questions, we particularly liked this comment from Rep. Greg Rothman: “As someone who has spent 30 years trying to attract people and businesses to the state of Pennsylvania, to hear you say your department ‘allowed’ businesses to stay in business is offensive. We live in a free state and a free country. This isn’t Cuba where the government ‘allows’ businesses to stay open. You didn’t do businesses any favors.” Indeed.
Butler v. Wolf: The latest
Speaking of shutdowns, for those keeping track of Butler v. Wolf, the case pending in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals challenging Gov. Wolf’s shutdown orders, yesterday the court asked parties to the case to submit additional briefs answering the following questions: 1) Of the orders challenged in this litigation, which order(s) remain in force and effect? 2) Regarding the orders no longer in force and effect, how and when did this occur? 3) What are the legal consequences of these developments? Have the issues before this Court changed? The combined timeline for response by all parties is another 28 days. You can read the court’s letter here.