Governor Tom Wolf on Wednesday called on Allegheny County’s voters to vote against two electoral issues that would curtail the governor’s authority in a stated emergency.
An electoral poll asked voters to amend the Pennsylvania Constitution to require the governor to obtain legislative approval to continue a declaration of emergency after 21 days. The other is trying to give the General Assembly the power to end a disaster declaration without the governor’s approval.
“These amendments are futile gestures targeting a past crisis and pain that we all feel will never be resolved,” Wolf said at a press conference in downtown Pittsburgh.
The referendums come after months of criticism from Republicans targeting Wolf’s pandemic-induced stay-home orders, business closings and continued restrictions designed to slow the spread of the virus.
Republicans have said the changes will restore control and balance in government.
“What these amendments would ultimately do would be to bring the General Assembly – the voice of the people – back into these discussions,” said Jason Gottesman, spokesman for the House Republican Caucus.
Wolf said the changes would hinder efforts to help communities in crisis.
“Changing the rules does not change the fact that this crisis has happened or that such crises will recur,” he said. “When a community needs help, the state has to be there to help. We don’t have to wait for 250 within the legislature to deliberate on the issue and make a decision, ”he said.
Gottesman called the media conference on Wednesday part of a “disinformation campaign,” one of several alleged to “distort the facts and sow fear and division among Pennsylvanians” to obtain information about the election initiatives.
Wolf said, however, that the state constitution is already building checks and balances in relation to emergency declarations.
“If lawmakers don’t like what I do in a crisis, they can stop me – right now,” he said. “The current election issue is simply asking voters to do it a lot easier.”
Currently, a governor can veto a resolution to end a statement passed by lawmakers. The General Assembly needs a two-thirds majority in both chambers to lift the governor’s veto. Likewise, the current emergency statements take 90 days, and the governor can renew them again and again, as Wolf has done since the pandemic began last year.
Allegheny County executive Rich Fitzgerald, along with Wolf, urged residents to vote against amendments on May 18. As of today, the governor can work with health professionals and gather a variety of information when it comes to making emergency decisions.
“With this referendum, the decisions are basically placed in the hands of two people: the Senate Majority Leader and the Speaker of the House,” Fitzgerald said, noting that emergency statements are not limited to one pandemic but can vary from hurricanes and others Floods and even terrorist attacks.
“We need to ensure that our experts … make professional decisions, not the particular interests of some elected leaders who represent a tiny minority in the legislature,” he said.
Megan Guza is a contributor to Tribune Review. You can contact Megan at 412-380-8519, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter.