May. 10, 2021

Pennsylvania’s farmers know what it is like to face a challenge. Supply chain, international market fluctuations and the weather can impact decisions every day and sometimes every hour. A “disaster” to a farmer can arrive in many different forms, none of which need to be declared by the government. 

In a recent op-ed directed towards our Commonwealth’s agricultural community, Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding tried to argue that it was thanks to “emergency declarations by the Executive Branch” that the state was able to recover from events such as Avian Influenza, African Swine fever or other animal health pandemic events. However, the actions of his own department prove these words are not backed up by facts.

Yes, state leaders stepped up to help fight the bird flu, but there was never an emergency declaration. Our farming community worked directly with state and federal agencies, and other leaders to face and solve the problem. Actually, federal bird flu dollars were especially crucial because at the time Gov. Wolf delayed much-needed state dollars from reaching farmers by not signing the budget on time in his first term.

Secretary Redding left out that, since 1929, his own department has had the authority to issue animal quarantines and restrict animal movement for disease prevention without any requirement of a disaster declaration signed by the governor. His department has used this authority for decades to issue quarantines for any number of animal disease threats.

The secretary goes on to threaten that federal relief dollars targeted to farmers would evaporate without a disaster declaration. 

At best, this claim is false. At worst, it is outright fearmongering. 

Pennsylvania received extensive federal funding to assist in the bird flu pandemic and more recently, to fight the spotted lanternfly. In both cases, there was never a disaster declaration. 

The secretary has crossed the line from nonpartisan government servant to partisan activist. 

On the ballot this May is the opportunity for Pennsylvanians to have their say in how they wish to be governed. Do you want to live in a Commonwealth where one person decides when you are living in a disaster? And can make short-sighted and one-sided decisions into how that declaration impacts you, your family and your business? 

We only need to remember the business shutdown order in Spring 2020 to see the consequences. While some Mom-and-Pop shops closed for good, big box retailers thrived. Businesses that applied for a waiver to operate received nothing but frustration as some were arbitrarily denied and others, often in the same line of work, were granted the power to stay open.

Disaster declarations serve an important purpose, but the importance is diminished when an executive signs them in bulk, and when the voices of those who are governed are silenced in the process.

The constitutional amendments on the ballot this month are not political questions – they are personal ones. I voted to put these questions on the ballot because I believe the voice of the people should be considered in every move your government makes. A “yes” vote on these amendments means your Legislature, the people elected to represent your interests, will carry your voice into how the government operates during an emergency.

Secretary Redding ominously threatened that the next emergency is coming. But the secretary knows as well as anyone that generations of Pennsylvania farmers have faced disasters, big and small, head on. We have recovered, adapted and thrived without government declarations, and we have no plans of changing that history any time soon.

Speaker Bryan Cutler
100th Legislative District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives