Legislators take oath of office for 2017-18 session
Dermody: Pennsylvanians 'counting on us' to work together
HARRISBURG, Jan. 3 -- Men and women from across Pennsylvania gathered at the state Capitol today to take the oath of office, officially opening the General Assembly's 2017-18 legislative session.
House lawmakers take office facing a state budget deficit that could exceed $1.7 billion by the beginning of the next fiscal year, and unsure of how the decisions of a new administration and Congress in Washington will impact Pennsylvania.
"There are many things that could happen to affect our state's budget and our state's people in big ways," said House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody in remarks welcoming legislators back to Harrisburg. "But whatever this year may bring, the House Democratic Caucus that I am honored to lead will continue to speak out and stand up for working men and women, seniors and children."
Dermody, who returns for his fourth term as House Democratic leader, said his caucus will continue working to improve Pennsylvania's school classrooms and access to health care so that all kids get the start in life that prepares them to succeed.
While noting that Democrats and Republicans worked together in a bipartisan way to accomplish several important goals last year, such as beginning to address Pennsylvania's opioid and heroin addiction crisis, boosting education funding, passing a medical marijuana law, and improving convenience for beer and wine customers, Democratic Whip Mike Hanna said many priorities important to working men and women in Pennsylvania were not addressed in 2016.
"There are still tens of thousands of families in Pennsylvania trapped in poverty because they do not earn enough working full time to afford their rent, food and other living expenses," Hanna said. "A million Pennsylvanians would see a critical income boost if Pennsylvania follows what every state around us did and increases its minimum wage. This would also relieve some of the burden on middle-income taxpayers, who are paying for the services many of these families must use because they cannot earn enough working full time to maintain economic security."
Hanna said House Democrats will also make other family-friendly policies a priority this year, including retirement security for private-sector workers; paid leave so parents don't have to choose between their family's health and their paycheck; expanded access to quality, affordable early education and child care; and equal pay and workplace fairness for women, those with disabilities and others.
"No one is calling for special privileges for certain groups of people," Hanna said, "but every person who works hard and plays by the rules should be able to pursue the same individual, family and economic opportunities as everyone else. Each person in Pennsylvania has the right to expect that protection at a minimum."
Democratic Appropriations Chairman Joe Markosek said the legislature must make addressing the state's growing structural budget deficit priority No. 1.
"We are quickly running out of the one-time revenues, fund transfers and other accounting gimmicks used in previous budget years," Markosek said. "The state has a constitutional obligation to deliver public education for our children, protect the environment, and provide for public health and safety. If we want to pay our bills and meet our obligations -- if we want to fix the problems we face and make the investments we need for a state and an economy that works for everyone -- we must tackle our budget crisis in an honest and responsible way."
"We've shown that we can do good things in the legislature when we put aside partisan rancor and work together honestly," Dermody said. "The people of Pennsylvania all have common goals and common needs. What they are counting on us to do, what they expect us to do, is work together to find common solutions."
Twenty-two members of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives were sworn in today for the first time. Eight others who arrived part way through the previous session via special election also participated in their first full-scale swearing-in day today. The House begins the 2017-18 session with 40 women, the highest number ever.