Rep. Otten's 2023-2024 State Budget Statement

Last night the House approved a budget for the 2023-2024 fiscal year, by a vote of 117-86.

With the governor’s assurance that there will be a line-item veto to remove the proposed private and religious school vouchers from the budget, and in an effort to move the process forward and avoid an extended impasse with painful, negative impacts to our communities, especially our public schools, I voted yes to advance House Bill 611, the general appropriation bill. 

This budget is not perfect. It is missing many of the priorities that are important to me and to our community. But the Democratic-controlled House was at an impasse with the Republican-controlled Senate, and that is the reality that we live with in a divided legislature.

If we had failed to pass this version of the budget, or if we had amended it further in the House, it would have gone back to the Senate, risking deeper cuts in programs to help Pennsylvania families and communities and a prolonged wait for appropriations to be dispersed at a critical time for our public schools and universities. I believe we would have ended up with less funding for our priorities, not more.

In the end, we have a budget that keeps year-over-year funding level for most state agencies and programs, while making additional investments in important priorities like education, property tax relief, and the Whole Home Repair program, which was newly launched in 2022.

That said, it’s important to note that the budget process is not yet entirely complete. The presiding officers in the Senate and the House still need to sign HB 611 before it goes to the governor’s desk for his signature. And while the General Assembly has fulfilled our constitutional requirement to deliver a budget, we still need to pass the complex fiscal code, tax code, and education code bills that typically accompany each year’s general appropriation bill. While we are not legally required to pass these code bills, they dictate important details of how the funds allocated in the budget may be spent.

The future of in-state tuition rates at three of our state-related universities—Penn State, the University of Pittsburgh, and Temple University – also hangs in the balance, with House Republicans blocking repeated attempts to fund these schools. (Funding for the fourth state-related school, Lincoln University, was approved.) State funding for these universities allows these longstanding institutions to offer in-state tuition discounts to Pennsylvania residents.

These four state-related universities are referred to in the budget process as “nonpreferreds,” because their allocations are approved through a "nonpreferred" appropriations process separate from the state budget. Unlike most legislation that comes before the General Assembly, nonpreferred appropriations require a two-thirds majority vote in both chambers of the legislature.

I have supported and will continue to vote in support of in-state tuition discounts for Pennsylvania students, which benefit tens of thousands of Pennsylvania students and their families and carry significant economic benefits for our entire Commonwealth.

Here are some of this year’s budget high points, as well as the areas where I believe the state budget falls short.

High points:

  • Investments in schools: This budget includes an additional $714 million in Basic Education Funding, Special Education Funding, and Level Up funding, for a total increase of 8% over last year’s school funding allocation.

Here in our legislative district, Coatesville Area School District will receive $4.6 million more than last year in Basic Education Funding (BEF), Special Education Funding (SEF), and Level Up Funding combined, an increase of 12% over the 2022-23 school year. The Downingtown Area School District will receive an increase of $1.8 million in Basic Education and Special Education funding, a 7.7% increase over the 2022-23 school year.

We still have a great deal of work to do to address Pennsylvania’s failure to provide a thorough and efficient system of public education to all students in the Commonwealth, but this year’s budget takes another meaningful step toward full and fair funding. Every dollar invested at the state level will help to ease the property tax burden for seniors and working families and move us one step closer to ensuring that every child, regardless of ZIP code, has access to quality public schools.

  • Public funding for public schools: House Democrats stood firmly against school voucher programs that would have diverted public tax dollars to pay for private and religious school tuition. As a result, ahead of the House budget vote, Governor Shapiro agreed to use his line-item veto to eliminate $100 million in voucher spending from the budget.
  • Student Teacher Stipends – The budget allocates $10 million for the student teacher stipend program proposed in HB 1331, which I sponsored with my colleagues Rep. Curry and Rep. Schweyer. The bill creates paid stipends for prospective teachers during their student-teaching semester. In return, college students who receive the stipend agree to teach in Pennsylvania for at least two years after graduation. These funds will help to grow our teacher pipeline, address our teacher shortage, and eliminate financial barriers for college students hoping to pursue a career in education.
  • Property Tax / Rent Rebate expansion: The budget includes funds for expanded property tax and rent relief. The details of the property tax expansion passed the House and Senate as HB 1100, a bill that I was proud to co-sponsor.

Under the new budget, the eligible income limit for the property tax and rent rebate program is increased to $45,000 for both homeowners and renters, and the maximum rebate amount is increased to $1,000. The new legislation also provides for an annual cost-of-living adjustment. 

The budget also includes:

  • $30 million in investments in apprenticeships and vocational and technical education, to address our skilled workforce shortages and give more Pennsylvanians the opportunity to pursue careers in the trades.
  • $46 million to provide school breakfast for all students and expanded eligibility for free school lunch
  • $20 million to fund the historically disadvantaged business program
  • $20 million to counties to increase basic funding for mental health
  • Funding for indigent defense for the first time in history

Where we need to do better:

Failure to responsibly invest surplus, unallocated funds: For the third year in a row, the legislature has left billions of dollars unallocated while Pennsylvania families are suffering.

We continue to sit on $13 billion in funds while our roads and bridges remain in desperate need of repair and while our public schools are literally crumbling, many still full of lead and asbestos, and many without air conditioning or adequate heating and ventilation systems.

A one-time allocation of funds could help to cure the rape kit backlog that leaves rape survivors without justice and rapists on our streets.

A one-time allocation of funds could also advance environmental initiatives, such as efforts to plug wells that are contributing to carbon emissions and climate change.

In each of the above cases, a one-time investment of these readily available funds would help us remedy a critical problem in our commonwealth, while also helping to advance us toward a structurally sound, sustainable budget in future fiscal years.

Failure to invest in the Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) waiver program or care workforce wages: Pennsylvania’s HCBS waiver system has been in a chronic state of underfunding and crisis for years. More than 12,300 Pennsylvanians remain on the HCBS waitlist, and more than 7,000 of those individuals (up from 5,000 last year) now fall into the “emergency” category, meaning they need services immediately, or in no later than six months. Even families who do have waivers are unable to find the help they need because we are facing a critical shortage of care workers.

This issue has been one of my top priorities in Harrisburg and I will continue fighting to raise wages and reimbursement rates for care workers, direct support professionals (DSPs), and homecare nurses so that we can meet the growing demand for high-quality, cost-effective care for Pennsylvania’s most vulnerable individuals, including seniors and individuals with disabilities. It is unconscionable for us to sit on billions of dollars in unallocated funds that would be lifechanging for families while creating jobs in our commonwealth.

Failure to invest in environmental protections and programs: This budget fails to make the necessary investments to allow DEP to restore adequate staffing levels, fund clean water programs, or carry out the essential work of inspections, oversight, and hazardous site cleanup.

We left many issues on the table heading into this budget and the legislature’s summer recess, and there is much work left to be done in both chambers, and on both sides of the aisle. The House passed a minimum wage increase, commonsense gun measures, and the Fairness Act to protect LGBTQ+ individuals from discrimination, but these proposals have not yet been taken up in the Senate. We still have a fight ahead of us to improve access to affordable healthcare and champion renewable energy sources to protect our environment for generations to come. 

While this vote is behind us, there are many more votes ahead, and I will continue to work hard at home and in Harrisburg to ensure that we address the needs and priorities of our district.

If you have questions or would like to provide any input on any legislative issue, please contact our district office at or 484-200-8259.