by Lowman S. Henry | October 15, 2019

“I’ve got a pen and I’ve got a phone – and I can use that pen to sign executive orders and take executive actions . . .”

Those words were spoken by President Barack Obama who, frustrated by dealing with a Republican-controlled congress that did not share his policy goals proceeded to push the constitutional boundaries of executive branch authority.

It is a tactic Governor Tom Wolf has adopted with gusto in recent months.  Facing the same governing paradigm as the former President, Wolf has seen a Republican-controlled state legislature frustrate his goal of turning Penn’s Woods into a template for the ultra-Left wing policies being espoused by the bevy of candidates seeking the Democratic Presidential nomination.

Back around Independence Day the General Assembly adjourned for a long summer recess.  Wolf seized upon their absence to begin issuing a string of executive actions that clearly would stand no chance of coming for a vote much less being enacted into law by the legislature.

The assault on Second Amendment rights hit high gear in early August following mass shootings in Texas and Ohio.  The anti-gun Left never lets a tragedy pass without ramping up the rhetoric and Wolf added action to their words.  He signed an executive order creating a new special counsel on gun violence and created new deep state bureaucracies to develop ways to curb gun rights.

Wolf next aimed his pen at Pennsylvania charter schools.  Having received millions in campaign contributions from the state teacher’s union Wolf simultaneously repaid a debt and struck a blow for the Left’s crusade to keep all students in government schools by putting onerous financial restrictions on charter schools.  The Governor placed a new financial roadblock in the path of those seeking to start new charter schools.  Then he essentially began charging charter schools to have the state Department of Education collect from school districts funds due to them by law.

But the biggest over-reach was yet to come.  Earlier this month Wolf began his attempt to embroil Pennsylvania in something called the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).  RGGI is a multi-state compact whose stated goal is to address what the Left perceives to be man-made climate change by reducing carbon emissions.

The tactic is essentially a “cap and tax” proposal which would place strict limits on CO2 emissions from power plants requiring them to pay state government if they exceed those limits.  The impact of this will be a new tax on power generators with the money collected going to subsidize economically inefficient “renewable” energy sources like solar and wind.

It should also be noted a fair portion of the new tax revenue will be diverted to public transportation.  As such it is yet another transfer of funds from Pennsylvania’s rural counties, which don’t have large public transit systems, to Philadelphia and Allegheny counties.

Given the fact power generators have already been reducing CO2 emissions by developing and adopting new technologies, RGGI is an ineffective solution to a non-existent problem.  Radical environmentalists love programs like RGGI, so Wolf wins points with his base by attempting to implement the program.

And it is just an attempt.  Given that RGGI clearly levies a new tax, legislative leaders have cried foul and will attempt to reign in the governor’s regulatory excesses.  This is something at which the Republican legislature has not been particularly effective.  Recall last year the state Supreme Court took away their power to draw congressional district lines, but lawmakers balked at taking the one step to reclaim their constitutional authority, that being impeachment of the offending justices.

Like a kid who gets away with snatching cookies from the cookie jar once, Wolf will continue abusing executive power and trampling on legislative authority until someone stops him.  The problem is he and his labor union allies purchased control of the state Supreme Court a few years back, so any case that ends up in front of them is likely going to turn out in the governor’s favor.

But there is one thing Governor Wolf should remember: what can be done by executive order can be undone by executive order when the next governor takes office.   Just ask Barack Obama how much of his legacy has been undone by President Donald Trump.

(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal.  His e-mail address is [email protected].)

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