OLYMPIA -- Tri-City lawmakers called the House Republican budget proposal announced Friday a game changer.
But Democrats seem unlikely to support it.
The 2012 supplemental operating budget proposal written by Rep. Gary Alexander, R-Olympia, will cut $839 million in government spending but not raise the sales tax.
Rep. Larry Haler, R-Richland, told the Herald he hopes the budget proposal will put pressure on Democrats as they write their own proposal.
"We do not need tax increases," he said. "This budget shows that."
Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, and chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means, said in a statement released Friday that he doesn't think the proposal is one the full Legislature will approve.
"A lot of work goes into producing a budget, and I know (Alexander) took the process very seriously. However, the hardest part of any budget isn't writing one that balances," he stated. "It's writing one that the majority of legislators in the House and Senate can agree on. I don't think this proposal meets that challenge, frankly."
Haler said he feels the budget proposal satisfies Republicans' top three priorities: to pay for all education, provide public safety and protect the most vulnerable people -- the disabled, elderly and young.
As ranking minority member on the House Committee on Higher Education, Haler said he was pleased the budget proposal does not cut funding to higher education or require tuition increases.
At a conference for the budget proposal Friday, Alexander said the proposal will require a half-percent reduction to the administrations of four-year colleges and universities. State Need Grants would continue to be funded, but individual students would be limited on how many years they can access the grants, he said.
The proposal includes the K-12 budget released by House Republicans on Feb. 2, which gives $580 million more in funding than the governor's proposal, Alexander said.
Rep. Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla, spoke in support of the proposal, saying it gives $89 million more than the governor's proposal in funding to vulnerable groups.
"Caring for the most vulnerable is our responsibility as a state, but it's also the right thing to do," she said. "This budget helps those folks who cannot care for themselves through no fault of their own."
The proposal maintains current funding for supported employment, supported living and disability programs.
The proposal fully funds Critical Access Hospitals and Regional Support Network Medicaid rates that are important to the Tri-Cities, Haler said.
However, the proposal reduces funding for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, which offers qualifying low-income families access to financial and medical support for as long as five years. The proposal only pays for four years of assistance, which, Walsh said, should encourage people "to get out there and get a job and, hopefully, get off the system earlier."
Alexander said he has discussed his proposal with House and Senate Democrats, but found no support.
"We've reached a point where our priorities are different," he said.
House Republicans released their budget proposal 20 days before the scheduled end of the session on March 8. Hunter said House Democrats will release their budget next week.
Much like a bill, the House and Senate must support a single budget proposal before it can be enacted. If lawmakers do not agree on a budget by March 8, the session could be extended another 30 days.
"Time is of the essence to get this budget out," Alexander said. "Every day, every week we delay is making it more difficult to solve our problems."
At the beginning of the session, Sen. Jerome Delvin, R-Richland, told the Herald to anticipate an long session.
Haler said lawmakers will need at least 10 days after the regular session ends to complete the budget.
"We sure could use public support and pressure," he said.
On Thursday, Sen. Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, told the Tri-City Regional Chamber of Commerce he feels like the session has just begun, because lawmakers are now starting to announce budget proposals.
"Welcome to the first week," he said Thursday, the 38th day of the session.