When picking winners and losers — as state officials have done during its business waiver debacle over the past two months — transparency matters more than just about anything.
In this realm, Pennsylvania leaders have failed miserably and continue to do so.
Late Friday evening, the Department of Community and Economic Development released a list of 6,123 businesses that applied for and received waivers to operate during Gov. Tom Wolf’s business shutdown and COVID-19 mitigation. The list includes 89 Valley properties, ranging from a winery to excavation companies.
It was well past-due for the list to be released. It should have been done weeks ago. At least it was something.
Then we learned this week, thanks to reporting from Daily Item partner Spotlight PA, that waivers that had been previously approved were pulled late Thursday, the day before the Friday release. They were not on the list, despite some being open for weeks. Additionally, a trucking company previously denied, was given a waiver at 9:30 p.m. Thursday.
According to Spotlight PA, “Officials with the Department of Community and Economic Development said the revocations were part of ‘a quality control review process’ that began several weeks ago. In all, 69 businesses have had their waivers revoked,” spokesperson Casey Smith said. “During that process, which is ongoing, we are rescinding waivers that were issued in error or do not meet the appropriate criteria,” Smith said.
There are multiple issues with the statements above.
Start with the fact that the exact criteria used to consider the merit of applications has never been provided by DCED. Businesses argue, rightly, decisions were made in secret and applied unfairly. One business may be granted a waiver, while another doing the same work isn’t. No one knows why. There isn’t a list of who was denied, likely to avoid the questions regarding similar businesses with different rulings.
The fact that the criteria remain a mystery is why the review process is “ongoing.” If clear standards and rules are in place, check the boxes met and make a decision. No need for “ongoing” reviews. Stand by your rules ... if you have them.
There has yet to be a cry for impropriety, but this lack of transparency and the back-and-forth behind the curtains prove it certainly isn’t out of the realm of possibility. There remain far too many unknowns.
Republicans in state government are right to push for more information. Too much is at stake. Businesses not permitted to open might never reopen because of this shutdown order.
We need and deserve to know more.
NOTE: Opinions expressed in The Daily Item’s editorials are the consensus of the publisher, top newsroom executives and community members of the editorial board. Today’s was written by Managing Editor Bill Bowman.