Harrisburg, PA (STL.News) Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf remains steadfast in his commitment to protecting Pennsylvanians despite reckless attempts by the Republican-led legislature to undermine the state’s successful response to COVID-19. Ignoring 200,000 pandemic-related deaths in the U.S., some legislators are playing politics with the virus, demonstrating the need to change the culture of Harrisburg. During a press conference today, the governor called on the legislature to stop the games and pass his government reform plan to rein in special interests and hold politicians accountable.
“The driving force of the mitigation efforts in Pennsylvania and other states is to save lives,” said Gov. Wolf. “Everything that my administration has done is based on the most up-to-date research on COVID-19, and it is working. We must not allow these Harrisburg political games to distract us from fighting this virus, wearing masks, avoiding crowds and social distancing.
“My door is always open to serious people who want to engage in serious conversation. But I refuse to take seriously any proposals that will endanger the lives of Pennsylvanians.”
Medical experts have applauded the Wolf Administration’s response to the pandemic. Earlier this month President Trump’s COVID-19 coordinator, Dr. Deborah Birx, met with Governor Wolf and said Pennsylvania has done a “remarkable job” fighting the virus.
Research at the University of Pittsburgh concluded that mitigation efforts have saved thousands of lives. The modeling found that without the restrictions the number of deaths in Pennsylvania would have at least doubled or tripled.
Easing the mitigation efforts too early would have dangerous consequences. The daily infection rate could double within a month, with exponential increases in later weeks and months, according to research by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.
The possibility of a resurgence of the virus this fall is also a real danger. A second wave of COVID-19 cases is surging across Europe, which the World Health Organization calls a “very serious situation” as weekly cases surpass the peak in March.
The governor encouraged Pennsylvanians to help fight the spread of the virus by downloading the new COVID Alert PA app from the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store. Launched Tuesday, the app notifies users if they may have been exposed to COVID-19 without revealing their identity or location.
“The pandemic has shown us that Pennsylvanians need accountable government now more than ever,” said Gov. Wolf. “I am calling on the General Assembly to take action on three government reforms to improve accountability and rein in special interests.”
Governor Wolf’s Government Reform Plan includes:
- Banning Gifts for Public Officials: On his first day in office, Gov. Wolf banned members of his administration from accepting gifts and believes that all public officials should be held to the same standard. Pennsylvania is one of 10 states with no specific law limiting gifts to public officials. Outside the executive branch, politicians in Harrisburg can take unlimited gifts from special interests. Legislative action is needed to make the gift ban expanded and permanent so all state elected officials are accountable to it.
- Campaign Finance Reform: Enacting new campaign finance laws that would place limits on contributions to candidates seeking elected office, implement aggregate limits for races, place sensible restrictions on Political Action Committees (PACs), and strengthen reporting and disclosure requirements across the board to restore confidence in government, and curtail the role of campaign spending in our political process.
- Outside Income Transparency: Requiring public officials to disclose sources, type of work and amount of outside income received.
Governor Wolf is leading by example in the fight to change Harrisburg. The governor donates his salary to charity and does not take a state pension. In addition to the gift ban, the governor ended pay-to-play legal contracting and requires his cabinet to post expenses online to increase transparency.
Pennsylvania received an ‘F’ grade from the Center for Public Integrity for state government accountability and transparency, ranking 45th among the states. The 2015 report praised Gov. Wolf’s reform efforts but criticized the legislature for failing to act.
The governor was joined by Suzanne Almeida, interim executive director of Common Cause Pennsylvania
“Transparency in government is essential to a healthy and strong democracy. That’s why Common Cause works to strengthen transparency laws across the country,” said Almeida. “Secret spending erodes people’s trust in government and that trust is more important now than it has ever been. Transparency promotes accountability and makes it possible for voters to make informed decisions.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that we are all stronger when we work together,” said Gov. Wolf. “We depend on one another, and governments depend on the trust of the people in order to lead effectively. These simple and commonsense reforms will ensure that the people always come first. I invite the General Assembly to join me in the fight for a more ethical government.”
Beyond ethics reform, the governor continues to take steps to protect the upcoming election with safe and secure mail-in voting and new voting machines with a paper trail. The governor is urging the legislature to give counties more time to process mail-in ballots before election day.
Eligible Pennsylvanians interested in voting by mail should sign up now for a mail-in or absentee ballot at votespa.com and return the completed ballot well before election day.
The state and counties are making further election improvements. Many counties are increasing staffing and will use high-speed scanners and other technology to quickly process millions of mail-in ballots in the Nov. 3 election. The Wolf Administration is also providing counties with masks and face shields for poll workers, hand sanitizer, floor marking tape for social distancing, and other supplies so Pennsylvanians can safely vote.