STAMFORD — Ten were invited. Nine showed up.

Five Republican and four Democratic contenders for governor came here in the snow this morning to answer one question: “Who will lead Connecticut’s recovery?”

The Business Council of Fairfield County heard a broad consensus on the state of government in Hartford: Common adjectives were “broke” and “out of control.”

All pledged to be the chief salesman and chief recruiter for new jobs, and all pledged with varying degrees of passion to cut spending.

No one volunteered specific cuts.

Everyone shied away from talk of taxes, though not new revenues.

Gubernatorial candidates chat 2-26-10

Gubernatorial candidates chat after a forum sponsored by the Business Council of Fairfield County

The Republican lineup: Mayor Mark Boughton of Danbury, Larry DeNardis of Hamden, Tom Foley of Greenwich, Lt. Gov. Michael C. Fedele of Stamford and Oz Griebel of Simsbury.

The Democrats: Juan Figueroa of Meriden, Ned Lamont of Greenwich, Dannel P. Malloy of Stamford and  First Selectman Rudy Marconi of Ridgefield. Mary Glassman of Simsbury canceled due to the weather

“Hartford” was shorthand for an ineffective government. The legislature was a favorite target, a reason to avoid talking seriously about how to close a projected deficit next year of at least $3 billion.

“Until we have a culture change in the General Assembly, we have no business talking about revenue,” said Boughton, a former state legislator.

“I think the biggest problem we have in Connecticut is we are one of the most business unfriendly states in this nation,” said Foley, a businessman and former U.S. ambassador. “We are driving jobs out of Connecticut.”

“Let’s be very clear. What we have to do in this state is what other states have done,” said Malloy, the former mayor of Stamford. “Get out of the way. Cut red tape.”

Lamont said, “We have to fundamentally change the way we do business in this state.”

Foley blamed the Democratic legislature for mandates on business and gave a pass to two Republicans governors who have ruled for nearly 16 years.

“We need to ge the size and cost of our government in Hartford down,” Foley said. He said the state should consider cutting the budget by $1 billion this year and next.

Figueroa, a former legislator who is president of the Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut, gently chided the others for scape-goating the legislature.

“This is a more complicated and complex problem,” Figueroa said. “I don’t think we can depend on simplistic solutions or a simplistic analysis for what is happening.”

He warned that deep cuts will be impossible without changing the core functions of government and a reduction in essential services.

“I’m going to disagree with my friend, Juan, here. The legislature is out of control,” Fedele said. “It’s broken folks. It’s broken.”

But no one offered to begin enumerating $3 billion worth of cuts in a budget of $18.6 billion, which is heavy with fixed costs, including $3.3 billion in annual debt and retiree expenses.

DeNardis, a former state senator who was a one-term congressman elected in 1980, said the budget overshadows every other issue, including job creation.

“The first job, the first order of business is to stabilize the out-of-control fiscal situation is Hartford,” DeNardis said.

Marconi proposed a major new source of revenue: highway tolls.

But he was not immune to criticism of Hartford.

“I don’t know about you, but I’m sick and tired of what I’ve been hearing out of Hartford,” Marconi said. “Our expenses are out of control. We need to cut.”

Lamont, the founder of cable-television company and the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate in 2006, said he was dubious of promises of new technology that would allow tolls to be installed without slowing traffic.

Griebel said he was open to tolls, but only if the revenue could be segregated for transportation infrastructure projects.

Noting that the state has used gasoline tax revenue for general expenses, not just transportation, Malloy said the state must consider creating a transportation authority.

Audience members said the forum provided an introduction to the large field. The candidates had the opportunity to outline goals and approaches, but they need to follow up with specifics, said Deborah G. Ewen, a leadership coach.

“I’m looking for outcomes,” she said. “I’m really looking for details.”

The 90-minute forum will be broadcast in Fairfield County on Cablevision 12 and statewide on CT-N, the state public affairs network on a schedule to be determined.

Cablevision subscribers can view the first 20 minutes of the debate Saturday and Sunday at 7:30 a.m., 11 a.m., 2:30 p.m., and 7:30 p.m. The entire debate will be available on demand on channel 612.

Mark is the Capitol Bureau Chief and a co-founder of CT Mirror. He is a frequent contributor to WNPR, a former state politics writer for The Hartford Courant and Journal Inquirer, and contributor for The New York Times.

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