Candidate says flat out: 'I will raise your taxes'



CHICAGO -- The old motto, "Honesty is the best policy," hasn't often been considered the route to success in politics.

But that hasn't stopped Illinois State Comptroller Dawn Clark Netsch, running in the March 15 Democratic gubernatorial primary, from telling voters straight out that if elected she intends to raise income taxes -- to rescue long-neglected public education.

In doing so, Netsch is following in the footsteps of Walter Mondale, who in 1984 announced in accepting the Democratic presidential nomination that if elected, he would raise taxes. That November, he got buried.

On the other hand, when George Bush in 1988 told his nominating convention to 'read my lips -- no new taxes,' he won the White House handily. After breaking his word, however, he was thrown out of office in 1992.

Netsch is taking a chance that not only telling the truth at the outset, but laying out a detailed plan, will convince voters to put the state's education turmoil in her hands. She is proposing a boost in the individual state income tax from 3 to 4.25 percent and in corporate income tax from 4.8 to 6.8 percent, bringing in $2.5 billion more for the state.

Not surprisingly, Netsch's two main opponents, state Attorney General Roland Burris and Cook County Board President Richard Phelan, have targeted her income tax increase proposals, arguing that the money needed to rescue the state's beleaguered school system can be found without them.

It is a particularly hard sell for Phelan, who himself pledged not to raise taxes when he ran for his current office but afterward did so to finance public needs that he said were unforeseen. Burris says he can meet education needs by squeezing $160 million out of the existing state budget, without being very specific.

Netsch's candid approach did not at first appear to be getting her anywhere until her campaign started running a television ad showing this rather grandmotherly lady shooting pool -- and pulling off some impressive trick shots. Having played pool in her younger days, she made all the shots shown herself -- albeit not in the consecutive sequence shown in the ad.

As she knocks ball after ball into the pockets, the voiceover says: "When it comes to real change for your schools and honest budgeting for Illinois, there's only one candidate for governor who's shooting straight."

Almost overnight, Netsch, a one-time Northwestern Law School teacher and former state senator who is married to noted architect Walter Netsch, climbed past Phelan in the polls onto Burris' heels. Less than three weeks ago, she cut Burris' earlier lead in the Chicago Tribune poll from 39-14 with 16 percent for Phelan to 30-28, with Phelan down to 14.

Burris, long one of the state's most prominent black politicians, can count on a solid vote from the black community, but he has failed to generate the kind of enthusiasm within in that marked the campaigns of the late Mayor Harold Washington and 1984 and 1988 presidential candidate Jesse Jackson. Turnout in Chicago's black wards will be a key factor for him.

Burris has also enjoyed some success among white voters, particularly downstate where he comes from. "There's a high comfort level in Roland Burris," says his campaign manager, Fred Lebed. But another Democratic strategist says Burris is "like tapioca pudding -- not much to get excited about."

Phelan, attempting to keep his campaign afloat, has bought very heavy television advertising criticizing her on her tax proposals, but to little apparent avail, what with his own broken promises on taxes.

The primary winner likely will oppose Republican Gov. Jim Edgar, who has only minor primary opposition. Burris reminded a First Ward meeting the other night that Edgar is running an ad hitting Netsch and Phelan as one Democratic who will raise taxes and another who already has. But it suggests he may see Burris as the easier foe in November.

"Whoever is elected," Netsch says, "in 1995 the people of Illinois are going to pay higher taxes. The difference is that I'm saying so before the election." So did Fritz Mondale.

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