Earning The Right To Lead – Politicians Collect Their Salaries While Pennsylvanians Suffer

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I was raised in a military family. We did not spend a lot of time yelling “gung ho” slogans, but we were steeped in the principles learned by a father who as a U.S. naval officer had fought in two wars and knew what it meant to lead. More than anything we were taught that being a leader was a privilege, one you had to earn every day.

Eat last if you eat at all.

Sleep last if you sleep at all.

Never ask anyone to do anything – not just that you would not do – but you had not already actually done yourself.

These principles are apparently unknown in the halls of our state government in Harrisburg.

Governor Tom Wolf and his infamous State Secretary of Health Rachel Levine recently issued new, more restrictive orders directed at what they continue to contend is the dire public health threat posed by COVID-19. Pursuant to the orders, all indoor dining is suspended, indoor gatherings are limited to ten people, outdoor gatherings are capped at 50 people, and all other in-person businesses are capped at 50% of normal capacity. Theaters, casinos, and other entertainment venues must shut down for the duration of the order. Indoor gyms and fitness centers must also close.

Just for good measure Wolf has decreed that school sports and after-school activities will also be canceled.

The order goes into effect Saturday and will last through 8 a.m. Monday, Jan. 4.

“We all hoped it would not come to this,” Wolf said during a virtual news conference in which he appeared from his home where he is isolating after testing positive for COVID-19. “I realize that there’s perhaps nothing more important than human interaction, especially within families,” Wolf said. “When you’re not able to see members of your family, that is not a small thing — that’s a big thing. But we need to stay safe. So, before you leave home, ask yourself, ‘Do I really need to make this trip?’ ”

The Governor feels your pain you understand. He is sorry he has to do this, but remember, we are all in this together and it’s for our own good.
Except we aren’t all in this together. We never have been. From the beginning, this has been a matter of a tyrannical governor dictating orders from Harrisburg that destroy small businesses and directly threaten the lives and livelihoods of Pennsylvanians and yet leave both him and the slavish legislature which allows him to continue his actions economically untouched.

John Longstreet, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association said recently in a statement that Wolf’s edicts have been devastating to the hospitality industry. “Hundreds of businesses are teetering on the brink of financial disaster, and the livelihood of thousands of employees are on the line,” Longstreet said. “The governor offers us nothing but lip service by acknowledging the hospitality industry’s precarious financial situation when our expertise is repeatedly ignored when drafting mitigation orders.

There’s no question that restaurants and bars are really hard hit by this,” Wolf responded. “Particularly at a time of year that is normally very busy for indoor dining. But, it’s also what the virus really likes.”

Restaurants have lost more jobs and more revenue than any other sector of the U.S. economy because of the pandemic. Several months ago, the National Restaurant Association stated that 91% of Pennsylvania operators had already laid off or furloughed employees. That amounted to 332,000 jobs. The carnage can only be worse now.

Restaurant operators have experienced catastrophic losses in sales. In Pennsylvania, for April alone those losses were $1.8 billion. As noted by Longstreet in his response to Wolf’s new decrees, “When shutdowns came in March, the federal government created several safety nets for businesses and employees through the Paycheck Protection Program and additional unemployment compensation. Those programs no longer exist this time around, and there is no guarantee Congress will act to extend them soon. Many of our industry’s employees used up their unemployment compensation eligibility from the first shutdown. Restaurants find it increasingly challenging to conduct outdoor dining as temperatures dip and realistically cannot survive on takeout, delivery, and carry out alone.”

In short, as bad as things have been, they are about to get much worse. Savings that were meager to begin with are exhausted. Government benefits are gone. Credit cards are maxed out. Nobody is sitting at a sidewalk table in Pittsburgh or Scranton in December. The real pain is about to hit.

And, the pain will continue long after restrictions are lifted. Nationally, 60% of restaurants that have shut due to COVID restrictions have closed for good. In Pennsylvania, the estimate is that 7500 restaurants will be killed permanently. That translates into something in the neighborhood of 175,000 jobs lost.

Hundreds of thousands of families across Pennsylvania are in danger of being evicted from their homes in January after federal eviction protections expire. Estimates are that across the state Pennsylvanians owe almost $1 billion in back rent. The Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania says 15% of all renters in the state are facing eviction within the next few weeks. That means maybe as many as a million Pennsylvanians put out on the street in the dead of winter.

And, throughout all of this neither the Governor, his Health Secretary, or any member of the legislature has missed a paycheck. Maybe that needs to change. If we really are all in this together, as the Governor assures us, then maybe we ought to share some of the pain.

An officer who sits inside his office in front of the heater drinking coffee while his troops conduct training outside in the cold and the snow is unworthy of his rank. He has no right to expect suffering and sacrifice when he will not put himself in the same position and feel the same pain. If he expects anyone to pay any attention to his orders and his exhortations then he needs to get out in the field with everybody else and demonstrate he deserves to be in command.

It’s long past time for Wolf, Levine and our state legislators to embrace the same principle. Stop telling Pennsylvanians you feel their pain. Share it. Demonstrate you mean what you say.

I propose this simple solution. Let’s just peg the salaries of the Governor, the Health Secretary and every member of the state legislature to the latest percentages announced by the state for permissible indoor dining. That’s a crude measure of the impact of the “royal decrees” we are living under, but it ought to serve the purpose and get the point across. Since Wolf has closed all restaurants to indoor dining that would mean that for the duration of that order no one named above gets paid.

It would also mean by the way that they don’t get that pay when the restrictions end. That’s not how things work in the real world. When restaurants finally reopen they won’t magically recoup all their lost income. That money is gone forever. It should be the same for the state officials imposing the restrictions and/or acquiescing in them.

Wolf probably won’t miss his salary. He grew up with money, and he has plenty from sources other than the state. I bet a lot of our state legislators who have stood by and watched this tyrant run roughshod over the Commonwealth for nine months will miss their salaries though. Maybe it will change their outlook on the “sacrifices” we need to make. Maybe it will spur them to do something.

At a minimum, it will mean they will be earning the right to lead.

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