Topeka House Republican leaders said Monday they were ready to strike a deal with Democrats to get enough votes for tax increases necessary to fill a budget hole.
But Democrats' reluctance to commit to a package of tax increases suggested that another fight over aid to public schools may lie ahead.
Legislators must raise $290 million to balance their $4.4 billion budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1, which went to Gov. Bill Graves last week. Lawmakers also are considering a budget cleanup bill that would make at least a few more spending recommendations.
The Senate boosted aid to public schools by $20 per pupil, to a total $3,890, in the version of the budget cleanup bill that it passed and sent to the Hosue on Saturday. Under the budget that went to Graves, aid would remain at $3,870 per pupil.
House Speaker Kent Glasscock and other GOP leaders met for about 45 minutes Monday with Democratic leaders about the budget and tax issues. On Saturday, the House rejected proposals to increase sales, inheritance and tobacco excise taxes.
Minority Leader Jim Garner, D-Coffeyville, said some Democrats consider $20 per pupil a "token" increase in aid to public schools.
And Rep. Bruce Larkin, D-Baileyville, top Democrat on the House Taxation Committee, said some Democrats still want a $100 increase, to $3,970 per pupil.
But the House has yet to accept any tax increase.
"I'd like to have more for public schools, but at this point, it's all about revenue," said Glasscock, R-Manhattan.
There are tax issues, too. Democrats have consistently argued that any package should include an income tax increase and not rely only on sales and excise taxes, which many Democrats view as unfair to working families.
Glasscock, R-Manhattan, complained that Democratic leaders have not presented a clear picture of what they want, making it difficult to strike a deal _ and creating the prospect of a long wrap-up session.
Monday was the wrap-up session's sixth day; that count includes Sunday, when neither chamber met but lawmakers were paid.
"We still have no idea where the Democrats are," Glasscock said. "I'm going to keep meeting with them until we reach some resolution."
Larkin called Monday's meeting "very unproductive," then acknowledged that Democrats may not know exactly what they want.
"There just hasn't been a general consensus," he said.
Sitting out the negotiations were conservative Republicans, who have said any deal between moderate GOP leaders and Democrats probably will add money to the budget.
"We're willing to cut spending and not raise taxes," said Rep. Tony Powell, R-Wichita.