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A Pa. House Democrat is Resigning Amid the Budget Impasse, Costing the Caucus its One-Vote Advantage

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HARRISBURG — The state House will once again be tied at 101-101 following the resignation of a Western Pennsylvania Democrat.

State Rep. Sara Innamorato (D., Allegheny) told Spotlight PA that she had resigned from office as she pursues her campaign to be the next Allegheny County executive. She sent a resignation letter to Speaker Joanna McClinton (D., Philadelphia) Wednesday morning.

Innamorato previously told Spotlight PA she would resign only if she won the general election in November.

In a statement, Innamorato’s campaign said that her early resignation “allows her the opportunity to work with the next representative and fully transition them into the role before the general election in November, ensuring the 21st district has a representative solely focused on advancing the needs of the district.”

Her resignation comes amid a more than two-week budget impasse that does not appear poised to end anytime soon.

But because the state House is not scheduled to return to Harrisburg until Sept. 26, her resignation — and the temporary loss of the caucus’ one-vote advantage — may not have an impact.

In an email, McClinton’s spokesperson said she had scheduled a special election to replace Innamorato for Tuesday, Sept. 19 — the earliest date possible under state law, and a week before the state House’s next scheduled voting day.

The district, which includes Pittsburgh’s Strip District and Lawrenceville neighborhoods, as well as part of the city’s northern suburbs, is unlikely to flip; Innamorato won 64% of the vote in last year’s election. Candidates for the seat will be picked by local party officials.

Democrats flipped the state House from Republicans in 2022, winning 102 seats on Election Day in November.

But disputes over the legitimacy of the Democrats’ majority — spurred by a pre-election death, multiple representatives pursuing higher office, and a scandal that led to a resignation — have been common over the past several months.

A rule written and approved by House Democrats in March states that the majority party is the one that “won the greater number of elections for the 203 seats in the House of Representatives in the general election preceding the term of service that began on the first day of December next after the general election.”

Should a vacancy occur during the term, the definition continues, “The political party that won that seat at the last election shall remain the party that won that seat until any subsequent special election is held to fill that seat.”

Control would only be reshuffled if a seat flips, the definition concludes.

Democrats argued the rule allows for state House operations to continue “without potential disruption”; Republicans argued it allows for Democrats to cling to power through artificial means.

But in the short term, the rule allows Democrats to remain in control of the chamber’s important committees and voting calendar even without Innamorato.

However, if there is a 101-101 tie, bills will not be able to pass the full chamber without GOP support, further complicating the path forward for budget-related legislation.

Some GOP lawmakers have joined Democrats to support certain bills, even when Democrats already had 102 votes. A number of marquee Democratic agenda items — including stricter gun laws, a minimum wage increase, and LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections — advanced with Republican votes.

Lawmakers could return to Harrisburg before September if needed due to budget negotiations, but talks appear to be stalled as the impasse approaches the three-week mark.

While the state House and Senate have passed a $45.5 billion spending plan, it is stuck in legislative limbo because the GOP-controlled upper chamber has refused to convene to complete a procedural signature that would send the plan to the governor for final approval.

The state Senate is also scheduled to return in September. Chamber leaders have said they are focused on getting Shapiro to backtrack on his pledge to line-item veto a proposed $100 million private school voucher program.

Closed-door conversations between House Democrats, Senate Republicans, and the Shapiro administration are also focused on a deal to pass the so-called “code bills,” budget-enabling legislation that modifies state law on taxing, spending, and education among other topics.

Legislative Republicans have said passing these bills is imperative to allow the state to send billions in state aid to school districts and to spend hundreds of millions on housing and public legal defense included in the state spending plan. The Shapiro administration and House Democrats have disputed this point.

When asked Wednesday if the budget talks between the governor and legislative leaders had borne fruit, House Appropriations Committee Chair Jordan Harris (D., Philadelphia) told Spotlight PA, “I think the fact that folks are talking is fruit.”

Democrats face at least one additional special election in the coming months. State Rep. John Galloway (D., Bucks) will be on the ballot this November as he runs for a local judgeship.

He previously told Spotlight PA he wouldn’t resign early, which he reaffirmed Wednesday.

“The election isn’t until November, and I haven’t won anything yet,” said Galloway, who will appear on the ballot as both the Democratic and Republican candidate.

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Stephen Caruso

Capitol Reporter