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Democrats take slim majority in the House for first time in 12 years

Allegheny County representatives Joe McAndrew (D-32), Abigail Salisbury (D-34) and Matthew Gergely (D-35) were sworn into office by Pennsylvania’s U.S. Magistrate Judge for the Middle District of Pennsylvania Susan Schwab on Feb. 21.


By Rep. Anita Kulik

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives returned to session on Feb. 21 and three new members from Allegheny County were sworn into office, which will technically give the Democratic caucus a majority for the first time in 12 years.

This majority, however, is a slim one. The member balance will be 102 - 101. In a perfect scenario, this would be a great situation for representative government. In order to accomplish anything meaningful, both sides of the aisle would have to work together to reach an agreement on issues to pass bills. Compromises would have to be reached. This situation could also mean that better bills are passed, as truly partisan bills would not receive as much support as may be needed to pass the House and then get through the Senate, which remains Republican-controlled.

Issues that reflect the needs of more Pennsylvanians could also get better attention. Committees will need to consider bills that have more significant bipartisan support than has happened in the past.

With the House resuming session, the first steps should be adopting a new set of rules to dictate the day-to-day operations of the House. For example, the ratio of majority to minority members on committees will be set. At this writing, leadership from both sides are working to come up with a set of compromise rules. Once the rules are voted on and passed, the House can begin the business of organizing committees.

Up until now, members could write bills and send out co-sponsorship memos. Once the rules are adopted, these bills can be formally introduced and sent to appropriate committees for consideration. I have proposed various bills, as I have each session and am hopeful that some, such as for Alina's Law (providing protection for the victims of domestic violence) and for additional funding for fire companies and EMS units will finally be given fair consideration.

The budget process will also begin in the very near future. On March 7, Gov. Josh Shapiro will give his first budget address to a combined session of the House and Senate. Appropriations hearings are set to begin after the address. All of the state agencies will have the opportunity to present their budgetary "asks" to the House and Senate committees.

Fair Funding Formula

Of particular interest will be education funding. The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court has recently handed down an opinion on Pennsylvania's Fair Funding Formula, finding it to be unconstitutional. Several of our local school districts need and deserve additional funding. These districts have a limited property tax base and have had serious issues involving appropriate funding.

A quality public education is a right guaranteed in the Pennsylvania constitution. What that exactly means has been a debated topic since the inception of this formula. While the court has not solved the problems with this funding system in its opinion, the ruling should force the legislature and the administration to give meaningful consideration to the problem. Many of my colleagues represent suburban districts that have not experienced the financial difficulties of the districts in our area. Several of my colleagues and I have worked very hard to try to educate these representatives about what is needed for our kids.

We know that we have school districts that are woefully underfunded.

The communities cannot support sufficient tax bases to keep the schools competitive. Both sides of the aisle in the House and Senate, along with the administration, must work together to address this situation without furthering the tax burden on our property owners.



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