PA Republicans Plot To Reopen Economy, But Wolf Has The Upper Hand

Posted on April 24, 2020

Gov. Tom Wolf shut down horse racing and casinos, along with almost all of the rest of the state’s economy. Now Pennsylvania Republicans, want the state reopened, and are plotting to curb Wolf’s sweeping powers invoked to combat COVID-19.

But their coup is unlikely to succeed, according to PA Spotlight, a reporting consortium of Keystone State news outlets.

Republican leaders on Monday gathered in Harrisburg before an angry crowd of hundreds of protestors to rally support.

Republicans want a rollback of closings

“Never before in the history of this Commonwealth has a governor exercised so much power,” state Sen. Doug Mastriano told the crowd. “It’s time to roll that back.”

Mastriano, who reps south-central PA, recently proposed temporarily redirecting sports betting revenue to property tax relief in light of mass job losses.

But with sports teams staying at home, retail sportsbooks shuttered at closed casinos, and few offerings through online sports wagering, the revenue stream is drying up.

Among reopening talk, there’s been some pressure to reopen PA horse racing but without spectators. That could come up at the monthly PA Racing Commission meeting on April 29.

A Facebook group called “Let ‘Em Run” started a petition calling for the resumption of racing, and it has gotten about 5,000 signatures.

A legislative Catch-22 poses a problem for their proposal

The Republican majority in the legislature had passed legislation to undo statewide closures, only to be met by Wolf’s veto, Spotlight reported.

And despite warnings from health officials and polls indicating support for the stay-at-home orders, some Republicans want to go even further.

Mastriano and state Rep. Russ Diamond, also from south-central PA, have each introduced resolutions meant to force Wolf to end his emergency declaration. In the end, “the same law that authorizes the governor authorizes us to terminate it at any time,” Diamond told Spotlight.

However, there’s a problem: The legislature needs Wolf’s approval to do it. Under the state Constitution, the governor may reject this kind of proposal.

That means Republicans would need some Democrats to join them to gather the two-thirds majority needed to override Wolf’s inevitable veto. And that’s unlikely.

Criticism of waiver process, transparency demanded

Legislatively stymied despite their majority, Republicans today are instead holding hearings.

Wolf’s Department of Community and Economic Development is on the hearing agenda. Wolf assigned the department with approving or denying waivers allowing businesses to reopen. The decision process is secret.

They have been criticized as unfair and inconsistent. Republican critics believe the rulings have been unfair to mom-and-pop small businesses.

Mastriano has told Wolf he intends to subpoena the administration for documentation on closures and waivers.

Auto sales and construction will return

Members are urging Wolf to reopen sectors of the economy using the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines.

That could pave the way to potentially reopening horse tracks.

“There are strict guidelines in the measure, and if that protocol is practiced and conditions are met, businesses would be allowed to resume operations and would not be subject to the existing waiver process,” Mastriano told PlayPennsylvania.

“Unfortunately, the governor’s waiver system is flawed, ineffective, lacks accountability, has no oversight and is riddled with unconstitutional powers.”

So far, the governor has responded by promising to resume vehicle sales and construction by May 8.

Wolf, however, has had nothing to say about the reopening of horse racing or casinos. But, PA online gambling sites remain in operation.

For the latest on state closures and reopenings, visit our live updates page.

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Kevin Shelly

Kevin C. Shelly is an award-winning career journalist who has spent most of his career in South Jersey. He's the former assistant city editor of The Press of Atlantic City, where he covered the casino industry and Atlantic City government as a reporter. He was also an investigative, narrative enterprise, and features reporter for Gannett’s Courier-Post.

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