Fixes for economy focus of debate

DAVIS -- Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown attacked Republican rival Meg Whitman as a defender of the state's richest people while Whitman called Brown a shill for state public employee unions in the candidates' first debate held Tuesday at the University of California at Davis.

The 60-minute face-off saw Brown, a 72-year-old former governor, calling his age an asset in the state's top job. Whitman, the former chief executive officer of eBay, billed herself as a break from business-as-usual in Sacramento.

Both candidates made downsizing state government and reining in spending central to their campaign platforms, with Whitman and Brown offering different ideas on how to bridge budget deficits.

Whitman repeated her pledge to put new state employees on 401(k)-type retirement plans, as opposed to defined-benefit pensions, and to attack welfare. She has said, however, that she would allow state public safety employees, except prison guards, to continue receiving fixed- benefit pensions.

Brown criticized that exception during the debate as proof that "when powerful forces come, she'll cave."

"We've got to attack the cost side of government," Whitman said. "We should go to a two-year budgeting cycle (to end) this business of constantly having our back against the wall, not having the ability to think longer term than three to six months out."

Brown said if elected, he would cut 15 percent to 20 percent out of the governor's office and ask the Legislature and state agencies to do the same.

Despite the similar cost-cutting calls, the candidates took contrasting stands on several top issues.

Brown emphasized that he supports Assembly Bill 32, the state law capping greenhouse gas emissions, while Whitman repeated her call for a one-year moratorium on implementing the law.

On immigration, Whitman said she opposed offering "a path to legalization" for illegal immigrants, while Brown backed changes.

When asked about the death penalty, Brown said he'd "rather have a society where we didn't have to use death as a punishment" but said he would enforce state laws allowing executions.

Whitman made no such distinctions, saying, "I will be a tough-on-crime governor, no question about it. I am in support of the death penalty. I am for three-strikes-and-you're out."

Brown, the state's attorney general, tried to draw a contrast of his own by repeatedly slamming Whitman's proposal to cut the state capital gains tax, which he said would benefit only the wealthiest people.

Whitman, who's a billionaire, has invested about $119 million of her money in her campaign, making her the biggest self-funding candidate in U.S. history.

"One of these targeted tax cuts is targeted at billionaires like Ms. Whitman and millionaires," Brown said. "It's about a $5 billion tax break that will go to the richest people in California. ... Where will a lot of that money come from? Our schools."

Whitman drew repeated attention to union support for Brown, which has included donations to his campaign and independent expenditure committees running ads against Whitman.

"My view is putting Jerry Brown in charge of negotiating with the labor unions around pensions, around how many people we have in the state government, is like putting Count Dracula in charge of the blood bank," Whitman said.

The Democrat, who's received about $30 million in contributions, is helming a lean operation that didn't run ads until Labor Day.

Whitman, on the other hand, has smashed state records for campaign spending and has said she's prepared to put up to $150 million of her money into the race.

The candidates meet again in Fresno on Saturday, then in a radio debate

Oct. 5. Their final debate is Oct. 12.

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