29 new members were among the 112 Republicans and 90 Democrats in the State House who were sworn into office Tuesday to begin the new legislative term. House members then unanimously elected Republican Sam Smith of Jefferson County as Speaker.
Both Smith and Republican Majority Leader Mike Turzai of Allegheny County struck bipartisan tones during their opening remarks. “My hope is, with the knives of November restored to their sheaves that we may set aside the hyperbole of the elections as we debate the issues of the day,” said Smith. “Our success in governing this commonwealth is dependent upon a debate that is singular and clear.” A few minutes later, Turzai told the chamber, “We can do good things, and we can be pro-jobs, and still be pro-environment. We can care about kids, but be fiscally responsible and not incur reckless debt. We can demand more of an educational system, and ask for more options for our kids, and still be pro-teacher.”
The bipartisan rhetoric aside, Republicans will likely move quickly on their smaller government agenda. Whip Stan Saylor said he hopes to pass a bill privatizing Pennsylvania’s state-owned liquor stores by the end of April. Work will begin before Governor Tom Corbett’s March budget address. “We will be starting that – start working on that as soon as we organize the committees on January 19,” said Saylor. “So we’re looking at the last week of January when we come back into session, that our committees – will start having hearings and moving legislation out of committees.”
Other priorities include measures zeroing in on possible waste and abuse in the Department of Public Welfare and other state agencies, and across-the-board cuts to state spending. That includes legislative committees and efforts, said Saylor. “We are going to put ourselves under scrutiny as well, as we look at these things. Not just looking at the executive branch.” The York County lawmaker said a tort reform measure will be House Bill 1 -- typically reserved for majority’s main priority -- through a House Republican spokesman later denied the designation.
The GOP will hold a sizable majority in both chambers over the next two years, but today, Democrats made it clear they’ll still be vocal. Minority Leader Frank Dermody of Allegheny County used his opening remarks to remind lawmakers of the challenges they’ll face, and of the real-world consequences their budget cuts will impose. “We’re starting with a state budget that needs to be balanced as we lose the critical support of the stimulus funding. Funding for life-saving family-supporting programs like Adultbasic insurance, mass transit, education, nursing home care and environmental protection must be preserved,” he said. Dermody added legislators need to “[make] sure that workers’ jobs are protected, children’s schools are competitive, and quality health care remains available and affordable for all our people. The challenge for all of us will be finding ways to balance the state budget, as we are required to do, while keeping in place essential services for those who so desperately need them.”
But shedding state jobs, trimming DPW and health care costs and scaling back the education subsidies that went up and up and up over the last eight years are exactly the types of things Republicans will be looking to do this session.