April 14, 2020

Below are a few things I know about Governor Wolf's mysterious waivers for "non-life sustaining" businesses to continue operations. The more I think about the many businesses owners desperate to work, and more than willing to adhere to social distancing and elevated hygiene and cleaning protocols but still idled under this system, the more ticked off I get.

According to a letter sent to Governor Wolf by most of Pennsylvania's various Chambers of Commerce, over 30,000 waiver applications were filed before they closed the application window as of April 3. At that time, only 13,000 applications had even been processed and the application process was shut down.

It certainly appears that the waiver process is arbitrary and capricious. When one appliance sales and service shop gets one, but another one doesn't, there can be no other explanation. Same goes for mobile pet groomers, builders, golf courses, real estate agencies, and on and on and on.

I've learned that law enforcement has access to the waivered business list, but the general public does not. That should send a chill through the bones of anyone who cares about good government and civil rights.

The Wolf Administration denied the media access to the list via a right-to-know request, citing closed offices and short staff under the COVID-19 emergency. But if law enforcement has access, why can't the same access be granted to the press and the general public? I mean, it's just an electronic file of data points, right? If I were in the media, I wouldn't print or repeat another word from the Wolf Administration until they release the list of waivered businesses.

When this waiver process was first started, there was one email address for applications to be made through. Then they added a web application. A few days later they quietly added a separate email address for legislators to use. This is par for the course in state government, and it's something I've never liked.

I don't think I'm giving away any state secrets here, but if you want anything done quickly when dealing with a state agency, asking your local legislator to go to bat for you usually helps speed things up. I think it's ludicrous that anything of this sort occurs in a society where every citizen is supposed to be treated equally under the law.

More recently, I have heard anecdotal evidence that Democrat legislators are getting far better results with waiver approvals than Republicans through this special, privileged access system. I've also heard that even among Democrats, there appears to be some favoritism.

And finally, the actual waivers themselves are highly susceptible to fraud. So if you're an idled worker and your boss calls tomorrow to report that the company got a waiver to operate and you need to report back to work, how will you know that waiver is actually legitimate? Have you even seen one of these waivers and do know what a real one looks like?

Look, these are just my observations as someone whose job it is to stand up for the people. Any one of these points alone is cause for raising a red flag, but added together they point to a system which has critically abused Pennsylvania's business community, has apparently played favorites while picking winners and losers, is rife with inconsistencies, and was not well planned at all.

There is only one way to know for sure.

GOVERNOR WOLF, PUBLISH THE WAIVER LIST! Let the people of Pennsylvania decide for themselves if your system will stand as fair, just, and necessary to the moment.

Opacity breeds corruption and allows bad decision-making to spread just like a virus. Transparency, on the other hand, is the great disinfectant for all governmental decisions. Whether you support or oppose the Great Shutdown of 2020, there is no good reason why this list should not be made public IMMEDIATELY.

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