Rep. Otten’s Budget Statement
Last week, the General Assembly approved, and Governor Wolf signed, a $45.2 billion budget. This deal comes a week after the deadline to pass a balanced budget. While no budget is perfect, this year’s plan makes meaningful investments in child care, mental health (both K-12 and adult), long term care, and support for individuals with disabilities and the workers who provide their care. For these reasons and others, I voted YES.
I wanted to provide an overview of the budget broken down by some of the key issues in our legislative district based on feedback we’ve received from constituents.
Investments in Education:
This year’s budget makes historic investments in public education, with an increase of $850 million for basic and special education. This funding increase includes a $525 million bump to basic education, $100 million increase for special education, and adds $100 million to the state’s school safety and security grant program as well as a new school mental health initiative.
These historic investments will directly impact our communities with Chester County schools receiving $15.9 million in additional funding. As part of this increase, the Downingtown Area School District will receive an additional $1.8 million, an 8.4% increase over last year, and the Coatesville Area School District will receive an additional $4.5 million, a 13.6% increase over last year.
My Democratic colleagues and I fought hard for this increase, which will help to fund programs, staff, curriculum, and supports for students and help to alleviate the future burden on property-tax payers. I'm excited to bring these funds back to our community!
We still have work to do on common-sense charter funding reform--especially with regard to special education tuition and cyber charter tuition rates--to ensure fair, transparent, and fiscally responsible use of taxpayer dollars. That work continues even as we celebrate these wins in the budget.
I will keep fighting to ease the property tax burden on seniors and working families and ensure that every child, regardless of ZIP code, has access to quality public schools.
Investments in Human Services/Care Workforce
The past two years have been difficult for all of us, especially for those working in healthcare fields and the people who they care for. With a growing demand for in-home care and high turnover in our care workforce, this year’s budget gave us an opportunity to rectify missed opportunities for investments in the past.
This year’s budget calls for increases of about $150 million for nursing homes and provides half-year funding for costs related to increased staffing levels, which will help provide much needed raises to those who helped get us through the COVID-19 pandemic. This budget will also include an estimated $294 million in the Medicaid nursing facility rate, with the assurance that the money will go directly to staffing for bedside care. In addition, $250 million will be provided to long-term living programs through American Rescue Plan Act funding.
This budget also addresses our home and community-based services (HCBS) waiver system, which gives individuals with physical or intellectual disabilities to live more independently. For years this program has been in dire need of additional funding to address the growing waitlist for services. This year’s budget includes an $18.8 million increase to serve an additional 832 individuals with physical and intellectual disabilities.
This year’s budget allocates $3.9 billion for state infrastructure projects, including bridge/highway/road repairs. In addition, Pennsylvania will reestablish the Motor License Fund’s purpose as the main account caring for the state’s roads and bridges. This action will free up $175 million annually for infrastructure projects.
In the past, funds that were intended for infrastructure projects were used to pay for state police. This budget transfers most of the state police funding to the General Fund so that the Motor License Fund will be used to improve our state’s roads and bridges, as it was intended to.
Property Tax Relief:
Increasing property taxes has been an issue affecting homeowners, especially seniors, for some time. Currently, there is only one program available that can help alleviate the burden of increasing property taxes - Property Tax/Rent Rebate Program. With this year’s historic investments in K-12 education, school districts will be less reliant on property taxes as a means to fund our public schools.
However, these increases alone will not be enough to relieve the financial burden many face. To address this issue, this year’s budget makes a one-time, 70% increase in the property tax rebate program. This will allow for rebates up to $1,105 for eligible recipients. While this one-time increase will provide temporary relief for many, I know there is more we can do to help the many struggling with increasing property taxes.
Environment and Energy:
We have heard from many constituents who support increased funding for programs to protect the Commonwealth’s environment.
This budget allocates an historic $640 million in conservation programs, including $240 million for water and sewer projects, $100 million for local conservation districts to use on flood control, nutrient management and other project. The budget also allocates money for Growing Greener III and the Clean Streams Fund, which will help reduce state park maintenance backlogs, preserve farmland, improve river water quality and clean up abandoned mines.
Another important element of the budget is the new Whole-Home Repairs Program, part of which will fund energy efficiency improvements for working families and seniors.
While this year’s budget vote is behind us, 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or 484-200-8259.