Edgar running again



SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP)—Gov. Jim Edgar answered a key question about his re-election campaign even before it officially began: He won’t take another no-new-taxes pledge.

Although Edgar says he will not promise no new taxes in his next term, he came as close as possible to making such a pledge during a rally late Monday in his hometown of Charleston.

‘‘The state needs to continue to be fiscally disciplined,’‘ Edgar told a rally of family and friends in his hometown of Charleston. ‘‘I am the only hope that we will not have a tax increase.’‘

So voters have an idea what the first-term Republican won’t do on a vital issue. Now, in a campaign that begins Tuesday with a statewide flyaround, he must explain what he WILL do.

Critics complain Edgar has run in place during his three years in office, that he has been more bookkeeper than leader. Edgar maintains his emphasis on the state’s bottom line is leadership.

‘‘I think it’s innovative to hold the line on spending when you have not done it for a long, long time,’‘ Edgar said at the midpoint of his first term. ‘‘I think it’s innovation when you downsize government when it’s been expanding year after year.’‘

But he will be challenged to explain what more he wants to accomplish, especially after saying recently he might consider a tax increase.

Will he propose major changes in the state education system? Will he tighten the state’s notoriously shaky ethics laws? Will he offer new ideas on attracting jobs to Illinois?

Edgar has been quiet on those fronts and more.

His major achievements have been permanently adopting the income tax surcharge approved temporarily in 1989, blocking most tax increases and holding the state budget in check.

Those achievements have not come easily.

His first tussle with the Legislature led to a record 19-day overtime session. That was followed by an emergency session to slash the budget when recession shrank state revenues. His second session went more smoothly, but the third produced weeks of inactivity followed by a 13-day overtime session.

And Edgar now has the Chicago school system’s $298 million deficit hanging over his head. He called a special session in August to solve the problem, with no results yet.

Edgar has struggled with his health, too.

He was hospitalized with a blocked artery a year ago and underwent an operation to clear it. Edgar, already slim, has exercised and watched his diet ever since.

Then in June, his gall bladder had to be removed.

Edgar says he is now in fine health. But the problems led to speculation that Edgar wasn’t up to running for office again. Brenda Edgar’s discussion of ‘‘unrelenting’‘ pressure on her husband didn’t help.

Edgar, a moderate on most issues, faced a challenge from the GOP’s conservative wing during the 1990 primary election. Larry Horist, executive director of the conservative United Republican Fund, said the group backs Edgar this time around.

But Horist warned that Edgar’s new position on taxes could cause ‘‘a measurable reduction in support’‘ among conservative voters.