OLYMPIA -- Lawmakers have come closer to a final budget that will have no cuts to higher education.
The most recent no-cut budget proposal came from a coalition of Senate Republicans and three Democrats who announced their proposal during a conference Thursday.
The proposal, written by Sen. Joseph Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, has local lawmakers and higher education proponents hopeful.
Rep. Larry Haler, R-Richland, issued a statement applauding the senators.
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"This should serve as a starting point for future budget negotiations. As a state, our primary duty is education," he said.
Chris Mulick, director of state affairs for Washington State University, told the Herald the budget would put an end to a cycle that has cut state funding to WSU in half in the last four years.
"This is as big deal in the Tri-Cities, as it is anywhere in our system," he said.
Mulick said higher education appropriations in Zarelli's proposal are very similar to the budget approved by House Democrats on the last day of the regular session.
"But they are not in agreement on a final budget yet," Mulick said.
Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Bellevue, spoke in support of Zarelli's proposal at the conference. He said proposals from Democrats create a large budget gap through overspending and apportionment shifts for future lawmakers to deal with.
"And when you have a $2 billion gap going into next year, what's going to get hammered? Higher ed," Tom said.
But many other lawmakers oppose the pension plan reform in Zarelli's budget. During a hearing on his own budget proposal, Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, said lawmakers can better predict the effects of a delayed payment to schools, and the effects are fewer than cutting programs or skipping pension plan payments.
Haler also spoke in opposition to pension plan reform because of its effects on education.
"Skipping a pension payment now will harm retired teachers," he said.