ROCKY HILL – Republican gubernatorial candidates Tom Foley and John McKinney squared off here Thursday night in their first face-to-face debate of the primary season – sharply criticizing Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and avoiding any direct criticisms of each other.
The candidates blasted the actions of Malloy and the Democratic-controlled state legislature for increasing spending and passing the largest tax increase in state history in 2011 that they said is still hurting the state’s economy. They criticized a new tax that has since been phased out on electricity generators, such as the Dominion nuclear power plant in Waterford.
Sitting about 10 feet away from each other on a stage and separated by a moderator, the candidates discussed a wide variety of issues from the minimum wage and the Common Core educational standards to the proposed baseball stadium in Hartford for the New Britain Rock Cats professional baseball team.
Foley and McKinney hammered the Hartford-to-New Britain busway that is currently being constructed for more than $550 million – with the federal government paying for the vast majority of the costs as the only “shovel-ready’’ construction project that was set to go when Malloy took office.
“It was the only way that he could immediately create jobs,’’ Foley told a crowd of more than 50 people in a hotel ballroom. “This was borrowing a lot of money to create some jobs.’’
McKinney offered similar remarks, saying, “It was a waste of money. … Fixing roads and bridges is important. Building busways are not.’’
Regarding tolls, McKinney said the state legislators who support tolls are those who do not live near the state borders.
“It’s just another tax, and people are already over-taxed,’’ McKinney said of tolls. “The amount of Connecticut residents who pay those tolls will far surpass’’ the money paid by out-of-state drivers who are traveling through Connecticut.
The candidates saved all of their criticism for Malloy and steered away from the recent criticism that McKinney had for Foley.
“John and I have both entered into an agreement to keep it positive,’’ Foley said after the debate, adding that he expects it to remain that way because McKinney is “honorable.’’
The next debate is July 17 at The Hartford Courant for one hour, and it will be taped for broadcast on July 20 at 10 a.m. on FOX CT. The final debate will be August 10 – two days before the primary – at Channel 8 in New Haven.
During 80 minutes on the issues Thursday night, both candidates decried “corporate welfare’’ that they said Malloy has given to major corporations like CIGNA, ESPN, and the Bridgewater hedge fund as part of the “First Five’’ program that has been expanded beyond the initial five companies.
Foley said that Malloy has been “bribing companies to stay here and not leave,’’ as well as spending about $300 million for the Jackson Laboratory project at the University of Connecticut Health Center campus in Farmington that is projected to create 300 jobs. Foley placed the cost at $1 million per job.
The hedge fund negotiators who reached a deal for millions of dollars for their company were involved in “a mismatch of epic proportions’’ in their dealings with Malloy, McKinney said.
“Governor Malloy says he’s for jobs, but he is anti-business,’’ Foley said.
The contest took place less than seven weeks before the Republican primary that is set for August 12. Although the primary is approaching, neither candidate has yet received $1.35 million in public campaign money that they are seeking. Foley has submitted the necessary $250,000 in small, private donations, but they have not all been approved as some were double-counted and others bumped up against the maximum of 10 percent of the donations coming from out-of-state contributors.
Devon Puglia, a spokesman for the state Democratic Party, said, “What the Republican candidates said tonight was straight out of the same old, failed GOP playbook – attempt to dupe voters by making reckless promises and by grossly distorting facts. … Connecticut has made enormous progress – and we have more work to do. But the Republican candidates are trying to altogether ignore Connecticut’s major strides, promise reckless tax cuts as a panacea, and package it up and label it ‘change’. Every day they pander to someone new – and they will take our state backwards.”
Concerning the criticisms of the Malloy-approved busway, Puglia said, “Federal dollars are funding almost all of the busway – and they can’t be used for other projects. Either the Republican candidates have no idea how the budget works, or they are looking voters in the eye and deliberately lying to them. I don’t know which is worse.”