BERLIN — Chancellor Angela Merkel's opponents defended their plans for tax increases Thursday and dismissed talk of a possible alliance with a hard-left party as polls showed them still trailing badly ahead of Germany's Sept. 22 election.
Center-left challenger Peer Steinbrueck's Social Democrats and his allies, the Greens, have struggled to generate any momentum for change against Merkel, a popular conservative.
She has hammered away at her rivals' plans to increase income taxes for top earners, arguing that the government's coffers are already in good shape and tax hikes would hurt a healthy economy.
Merkel also is seeking to mobilize supporters by raising the possibility of an alliance between the two center-left parties and the Left Party, which has opposed eurozone bailouts and reform plans and is against German military deployments abroad.
Merkel's party "is going to be chasing two ghosts through the streets over the remaining 17 days," Steinbrueck said after meeting with the Greens' leaders. "First, that cold socialism will come in through the back door ... and the other one is that (the Social Democrats) want to collect all handbags, all wallets to rip people off."
He added it would be impossible to implement "reliable and calculable policies" with the Left Party, which includes ex-communists.
The center-left insists top earners should pay more taxes to help finance education and transport infrastructure and reduce Germany's debts. They argue it's not enough to rely on a strong economy to keep boosting the government's tax take.
"Too little is being invested in Germany ... things won't work without a moderate tax increase," said Winfried Kretschmann, the Green governor of Baden-Wuerttemberg state.
The two center-left parties did well in a string of regional elections over recent years, winning several states from Merkel's coalition, but the national election picture looks quite different.
Polls show Merkel's conservative bloc leading the pack and a roughly 10-point advantage for her current center-right coalition over the rival alliance. Polls also point to a thin majority for Merkel's coalition over a combination of the center-left alliance and the Left Party.