Wolf Does What Lawmakers Want Him to Do, Just Slower
Readers familiar with the recent Avengers movies will know that Captain America (Steve Rogers) becomes fast friends with Falcon (Sam Wilson) after lapping him while they’re both out running. Facing a key decision later, Falcon points out he will follow Captain America’s lead, saying, “I do what he does, just slower.”
Governor Wolf’s version is slightly different: “I do what lawmakers do, just slower.”
During the coronavirus crisis, Wolf has vetoed bill after bill put on his desk by the Legislature, then enacted 40% to 70% of that legislation through executive order shortly thereafter.
Wolf also responds to pressure from other sources, changing his orders due to pressure from the private sector and from county leaders.
Today, Wolf is at it again, vetoing three more bills—making six vetoes since the declared emergency—that would have allowed real estate to reopen, car dealers and garden centers to reopen, and counties to devise their own disaster mitigation plan.
Lawmakers should keep sending legislation to Gov. Wolf regardless of his vetoes or threats to veto. Wolf has a pattern of doing what the legislature does, only slower.
There’s plenty of reason to think these vetoes won’t stand the test of time. In fact, Wolf has already issued “guidance” to allow real estate to open statewide—with his own restrictions in the name of safety—given the Legislature had nearly enough votes to override his veto. This fits a pattern:
- Construction: At Governor Wolf’s order, Pennsylvania was one of only a handful of states to shut down residential construction. While most states considered housing to be essential, Wolf left many families effectively homeless.
After public pressure built and legislation to overturn his shutdown of construction started moving in the legislature, Wolf announced on April 20 that construction could resume on May 8. The following day, April 21, the Pa House passed House Bill 2400 to open up construction effective immediately. Though Wolf threatened to veto the bill, he decided to alter his earlier guidance and announced that that he would instead allow construction to reopen on May 1.
- Car sales: Likewise, Wolf faced criticism for closing car dealers, even as out-of-state dealers were selling to Pennsylvania residents online. Only after the House started working on House Bill 2388 to allow car dealers to reopen did Wolf announce he would allow online car sales.
- Realty: On April 28, the House passed House Bill 2412 to reopen real estate transactions and activities—with a large bipartisan majority. Later that same day, Wolf announced relaxing restrictions on real estate—for transactions in progress and for individuals who have sold their prior home or who terminated a lease; and for others when a county moved into the “yellow” category.
- Hospital elective surgeries: On April 21, UPMC—the largest hospital system in Pennsylvania—announced they would resume elective surgeries without Wolf’s permission, as they had ample capacity and hadn’t seen a surge of COVID-19 patients. Wolf condemned this action, but on April 27, Wolf announced that hospitals may resume elective procedures.
- County reopening: On May 11, Wolf lashed out at counties who said that would move into the “yellow phase” on their own calling them “selfish,” “cowardly,” and “deserters” and threatening to withhold federal funds. Four days later, Wolf announced 12 more counties—including several who planned to move into “yellow phase” without his approval—could in fact move into the yellow phase (even though some didn’t fit the established criteria) in one week.
- Focused testing on nursing homes: On May 7, the Pa. Senate held a hearing on administration’s support for nursing homes (or lack thereof). Several questions focused on whether the administration should focus on nursing homes and have targeted testing and isolation for nursing home employees and residents. The Wolf administration said this was currently impossible to do. On May 12, Gov. Wolf announced a plan to focus on nursing homes and have targeted testing and isolation for nursing home employees and residents.
The reality is this: when Wolf vetoes a bill, he often follows his veto with similar executive action later, taking credit for the changes. This has been true since he took office, as his vetoes of pension reform, liquor privatization, and teacher seniority reform didn’t stop those proposals, or a big chunk of them, from becoming law.
Lawmakers should keep sending legislation to Wolf regardless of his vetoes or threats to veto. Wolf has a pattern of doing what the legislature does, only slower.