Pennsylvanians have been living under executive orders issued by Gov. Tom Wolf dealing with Covid-19 since March 6, 2020. In this nearly 11-month time frame, the governor has unilaterally regulated every aspect of business and daily life.
His orders have dictated who can and cannot work; who can and cannot go to school; when we can and cannot worship; when and where we may go outdoors; which sports our kids may play, and if/when we may watch them play; which taxes must be paid and which may be delayed; whether landlords can collect rent; and, whether banks can collect debts owed. For 11 months. Unilaterally.
In his first four days in office, President Joe Biden signed 30 executive orders. The topics cover everything from the Keystone XL pipeline to international relations, and from Covid relief to school sports. This appears to be more than his four predecessors issued in their first weeks, combined.
In Pennsylvania, we have to ask: Why is the governor empowered to tell me that my job isn’t “essential?” Why isn’t our legislature—a co-equal branch of government—involved? Can we really be in an “emergency” justifying extraordinary powers for 11 months? Why aren’t the legislators, who are just down the hall, allowed to do the jobs we elected them to do?
Similarly, in Washington, DC, why hasn’t President Biden asked Congress to pass legislation to enact his policy goals? Why are presidents suddenly allowed to unilaterally end construction and energy projects, regulate loans and school sports without the duly elected Congress acting? What’s the “emergency?”
Today’s order suspending tax payments could become tomorrow’s order mandating that taxes be paid immediately.
This is not some law school class discussion. This isn’t about party or ideology, or whether one agrees with the substance of any order. There is a much bigger issue at play here: Is America a democratic republic—with a Constitution—or not? Is the legislature a co-equal branch of government, or not? Or, do we live in a quasi-monarchy or dictatorship?
This discussion is essential to the future of our democratic republic. It cannot become a petty, partisan battle—that would be selfish and short-sighted. Today’s executive order stopping construction of a pipeline could become tomorrow’s order mandating it to be built, absent environmental regulation. Today’s order suspending tax payments could become tomorrow’s order mandating that taxes be paid immediately.
The United States of America established a Constitution in 1787 that intentionally created three co-equal branches of government and enshrined our federal system with the duty to respect the authority, constitution and citizens of each state. For centuries, Pennsylvania has also had three co-equal branches of government. These decisions were not accidental or insignificant.
Power was intentionally divided to avoid abuse and to avoid too much power concentrating in one person or institution. Our government was intentionally created with checks and balances, on purpose. Ours is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.
An all-powerful chief executive has the dangerous capacity to not only make a legislature meaningless in an emergency, but also to render a legislature meaningless permanently.
For that to be a reality, the people have to be represented. The people have to support not only the substance of the laws, but, more importantly, the process that brings them into existence. Individual citizens’ rights and the rule of law are protected by co-equal branches of government and by checks and balances. There is meant to be transparency, debate and then a vote by the legislature. The people are represented by that very body.
An all-powerful chief executive has the dangerous capacity to not only make a legislature meaningless in an emergency, but also to render a legislature meaningless permanently. The growing use of emergency and executive orders—growing in number and in scope—put our very system of government and even day-to-day life in jeopardy.
Business leaders need predictability to make plans. The ability to predict is based on knowing not only the laws, but also the rules and processes that can amend or end laws. If there are no rules—if there is not a transparent process in place—then entrepreneurs are hesitant to dream, investors are hesitant to invest and managers are hesitant to expand.
Those still set on growth and opportunity will look to other states, or other nations, to build, grow and invest. Part of the reason that American entrepreneurs and investors select America is that it is a stable, constitutional nation of laws. That is even more true for investors from around the world.
What will it say when entrepreneurs and investors start going elsewhere, putting their money in “more stable” nations or states? What will happen to our economy if those business leaders around the globe avoid America simply because it’s too risky?
The reality is that far more is at stake than our economy. It’s our way of life, critical to all Americans, and the many nations that are our allies. If Americans don’t respect and protect our Constitution and our system of checks and balances, who will?
Guy Ciarrocchi, Esquire is CEO of the Chester County Chamber of Business & Industry.