In their report card on the performance of America’s governors handling the coronavirus crisis, a free-market group founded by veterans of the Reagan administration gave Pennsylvania’s Tom Wolf an ‘F.’
The other three governors who got an F and “put their states in most economic peril” are Phil Murphy of New Jersey, Ralph Northam of Virginia, and Tony Evers of Wisconsin.
The Committee to Unleash Prosperity, created by economists Art Laffer and Stephen Moore along with publisher Steve Forbes, is open about its pro-business approach.
“The premise of this report is that — with a few exceptions in some metropolitan areas — the time is long past for every state to reopen safely, smartly, and judiciously so as to end the economic destruction and despair from lockdown,” they write in their new report, Grading Our Governors: A Report Card on Reopening States’ Economies.”
The highest scores went to Jared Polis of Colorado, Ron DeSantis of Florida, Brian Kemp of Georgia, Kim Reynolds of Iowa, Pete Ricketts of Nebraska, Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma, Kristi Noem of South Dakota, Bill Lee of Tennessee and Mark Gordon of Wyoming.
Wolf’s aggressive approach of shutting down businesses in response to the coronavirus pandemic has been criticized as heavy-handed by some. A request for comment from the Wolf administration on the report card was not returned.
Waivers issued by the governor to allow some businesses to stay open while others were closed have also been a constant source of controversy, with Republicans in the legislature taking the rarely seen step of subpoenaing documents from Wolf to learn more about how that process unfolded. The state auditor general has agreed to investigate the process as well.
State data show the state has suffered more than 1.7 million new unemployment claims since March 15, with the Delaware Valley counties bearing a higher share of that misfortune than the rest of the state. The flood of newly unemployed, meanwhile, has at times overwhelmed the unemployment insurance system, creating additional frustrations.
At a recent State Senate hearing on the state economy, much of the blame for the unemployment was laid directly at the feet of the governor.
State Sen. David Argall (R-Schuylkill County) referenced media reports that Pennsylvania was a national leader in unemployment, and asked, “Is that basically because our governor closed down a lot of employees and employers all across Pennsylvania that were allowed to operate in other states?”
“Senator, yes, absolutely,” replied Gordon Denlinger, Pennsylvania director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses.
“When you look at the timeframe, Pennsylvania’s closure order was the first — and in our opinion, very reactive in nature,” Denlinger continued. “It seemed like some very bad news was received within a span of an hour, suddenly, a decision was made, ‘Let’s just close everything down’ rather than taking some time bringing key stakeholders to the table, having a conversation with business associations and interests, and saying ‘How can we work together to get to the safest outcome possible?’”
During a conference call with reporters, Moore said, “We are in the midst of one of the greatest economic downturns in our country’s history. We all hope that it’s very short-lived.”
“I believe the summer is going to be very tough, very tough for the country,” he said. “We’re going to have prolonged unemployment through June and July, but we do think that by mid-August or so we can see a recovery that starts to feels like a recovery… when unemployment starts to fall and we start to see more jobs created and we see businesses back up as usual. So it’s going to be a very rough process.”
Moore said one of the reasons for the report was “our analysis shows quite clearly that the states that open up the soonest and the safest — and Iowa, Georgia and Oklahoma are three examples of states that are doing that — will have much swifter and stronger recoveries than states that stay closed.”
“And the major reason for that is because businesses cannot go another month without revenues,” Moore said. “Most states — like the state I’m in right now of Virginia — if they stay closed for another month… you’re going to have body bags of businesses that will never recover.”
The report measured the start dates for reopening in each state “as the evidence is very strong that states with late start dates will have much more severe recessions than states that open earlier.”
The report considered the severity of the coronavirus in each state and the need to keep citizens safe and healthy, but also assessed “how measured or damaging their actions have been with respect to safeguarding their economies.”
The study measured lockdown orders, business closures, hospital and outdoor activity orders, and the degree of punitive actions on enforcing these measures.
States’ Report Card:
The report also notes that keeping states closed can lead to health problems not directly linked to the coronavirus.
“The indirect health consequences come from economic devastation. Skyrocketing unemployment will lead to rampant substance abuse, domestic violence, suicide, drug overdoses, and other severe public health harms,” according to the report.