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Gov. Wolf not OK with unilateral decision making — unless he’s doing it

One could perhaps forgive Gov. Tom Wolf this past Wednesday for not being in the greatest of moods.

The night before, the General Assembly voted to end the governor’s emergency declaration that started in March at the outset of the COVID-19 outbreak. Does the Legislature have the power to do that without the governor’s approval? That depends on who you ask. We polled local attorneys and found their opinions to be split.

On the one hand, Wolf forcefully declared during a news conference that he knows of no circumstance in which the Legislature can enact anything without his office’s approval or a legislative override of his veto.

On the other hand, state House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, just as forcefully said in a statement released while Wolf was at the podium that the state Supreme Court is on the lawmakers’ side, thanks to a ruling earlier this year.

State Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Bellefonte, cited Section 7031(c) of the Emergency Management Services Code as basis for the General Assembly’s position.

Perhaps predictably, both sides declared they were prepared to battle in court over this, despite offering the usual platitudes about wanting to avoid a protracted legal skirmish. In fact, the Legislature has already filed a lawsuit against the Wolf administration.

We’re not here to debate which side is right from a legal standpoint.

But the governor did say something Wednesday that made us do a double take. He seemed exasperated if not incredulous that the Legislature would dare try to act without involving the executive branch before giving anyone listening an unsolicited lesson on Pennsylvania constitutional law. At least that was when he wasn’t deflecting questions to state counsel.

Pardon?

Was this the same governor who for the past three months has called all the shots regarding Pennsylvania’s COVID-19 reaction plan without once showing even the slightest interest in what the Legislature thought? Only now that the proverbial shoe may be on the other foot, he’s all about working together and not going rogue?

There’s a word for that. It’s called hypocrisy.

Perhaps if the governor hadn’t insisted on running things with a “my way or the highway” mentality, the Legislature wouldn’t have felt compelled to try to undercut him.

There is certainly validity to the argument Wolf laid out that a sudden end to the emergency declaration could have all sorts of negative unintended consequences for innocent Pennsylvanians.

But there is also validity in the argument that an emergency declaration isn’t supposed to grant dictatorial powers for months on end just because the governor says it is needed.

The two branches of government should have been working in concert this whole time. But when Wolf has turned up his nose at several pieces of legislation aimed at curtailing his authority in addition to leaving lawmakers entirely out of the decision-making process, what other recourse does the General Assembly have?

The Constitution doesn’t stop being the Constitution just because a pandemic is unfolding. Given Wolf’s predilection for lecturing us on civics, he more than anyone else should know that already. It is our hope this lawsuit provides Gov. Wolf with a much-needed reminder.

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