Northeast governors

A coalition of six Democratic governors in the Northeast announced a plan Monday to form a council to plan a regional approach to reopening the economy. The six are Delaware Gov. John Carney (top row, from left), New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (bottom row, from left), Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo and Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf.

(The Center Square) – A group of six Northeast states – Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island – on Monday jointly announced a council formed by representatives of each to come up with a plan to reopen their economies as the coronavirus crisis starts to ebb in the weeks to come.

The group became seven later in the day when it was announced that Massachusetts had joined the coalition.

The move by the states was seen in some corners as putting them in opposition to comments by President Donald Trump earlier in the day asserting that he alone has the power to decide when the economy is reopened.

The states’ announcement was led by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and the other five Democratic governors each called into a news conference held in Albany, New York, to announce the move to form the regional council. Each state will contribute three representatives – the state’s top health official, the state’s top economic development official, and the governor’s chief of staff – for a total of 18 members.

Cuomo said that the council would begin its work Tuesday and that the time frame for it to complete its work had not yet been decided.

“They’re going to start talking literally tomorrow and start to scope that out,” he said. “We didn’t start with a timetable. We said and will say to the group, we want it as soon as possible, but we want it smart.”

Earlier Monday, the president had issued a pair of tweets that insisted that it was up to him and other federal officials to make decisions when to reopen economic activity that has been shut down to combat the spread of coronavirus.

“For the purpose of creating conflict and confusion, some in the Fake News Media are saying that it is the Governors decision to open up the states, not that of the President of the United States & the Federal Government,” Trump said in the tweets. “Let it be fully understood that this is incorrect … It is the decision of the President, and for many good reasons.

“With that being said, the Administration and I are working closely with the Governors, and this will continue,” he continued. “A decision by me, in conjunction with the Governors and input from others, will be made shortly!”

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf suggested that since governors were the ones who made the individual decisions earlier in the crisis, the decision-making going forward should follow a similar course

“Seeing how we had the responsibility for closing the state down, I think we probably have the primary responsibility for opening it up,” he said. “I think this regional compact is premised on the idea that you’re not going to have a healthy economy if you have an unhealthy population.”

Cuomo echoed Wolf’s comments, saying that if the president wanted to impose federal directives, he has that power under the U.S. Constitution, but that it wouldn’t work if such directives didn’t take into account each state’s unique position.

“Gov. Wolf’s point is right,” Cuomo said. “The states’ closed. … And when you say open, what does that mean? Does that mean you’re going to proclaim all businesses open? Isolation over? Come out of your homes, businesses are open? What does it mean? Governors need clarity.”

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, saying that his state had not quite reached the plateau of new cases seen in New York, said that any economic decisions had to be made with public health still being kept in mind.

“An economic recovery only occurs on the back of a complete health care recovery,” he said. “Transposing those steps or jumping in too early or maybe jumping in by ourselves … you could have inadvertent unintended consequences which could be grave.

“This is the fight of our lives,” he added. “We’re not out of the woods yet.”

Wolf said that coming up with a plan well in advance of its implementation would send a powerful signal of hope to the residents of the six states.

“We need to come up with a specific and a smart plan for this uncertainty that lies ahead, but it is also [important] that we are creating a plan to let our people, the people that we serve, the citizens of our state, [know] that we do indeed have a future,” he said. “This is as important as coming up with the specific elements of this plan. It has to be responsible, but it has to show us that we do have a future.”

Murphy offered similar thoughts, arguing that even as the states continue to combat the virus, they were obligated to look at the economic angles.

"The house is still on fire, we still have to put the fire out, but we do have to begin putting in place the pieces of the puzzle that we know we’re going to need," he said. "Both health care infrastructure to make sure this doesn’t reignite, as well as the steps we’re going to need to take collectively as a region in terms of economic recovery."

Cuomo said that as the council develops proposals, there was no expectation that all six states would be bound to follow the exact same protocols. Some solutions might work better for some than others, he said.

“Each state will have a strategy," he said. “Hopefully, they’re not inconsistent. I would love to do everything in unison, that’s the optimum. If unison isn’t possible because we’re different and we have different needs, fine. But let’s at least know what each other is doing so we’re not counterproductive with each other.”

Cuomo said other Northeast states not yet part of the council were welcome to join, and he said there were ongoing discussions taking place with Massachusetts, which is led by Republican Gov. Charlie Baker.

Just a few hours later, word emerged that Massachusetts had indeed joined the other six states.

"The Baker-Polito Administration looks forward to participating in discussions with neighboring states and experts regarding the ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic," Baker said in a news release.

Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo insisted that the actions of the nation’s governors were going to be the keys in seeing the crisis through to its conclusion.

“The governors are the ones who have been showing great leadership and taking action to take our residents safe,” she said. “And so I think it’s only appropriate that we do the same thing now by coming together and showing regional leadership to reopen the economy.”

Regional Editor

Dave Lemery is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years of experience. He was the editor of Suburban Life Media when its flagship newspaper was named best weekly in Illinois, and he has worked at papers in South Carolina, Indiana, Idaho and New York.