NEW LONDON — Connecticut’s gubernatorial contenders spent most of their second live, televised debate either making promises, avoiding them, or predicting when their opponent would break his word.

Democrat Dan Malloy and Republican Tom Foley squared off on taxes and spending, union concessions and the death penalty in their one-hour forum at The Garde Arts Center.

Challenged on the first question to pledge their positions on taxes, Foley repeated his now-familiar assertion that the $3.26 billion deficit projected for the next state budget can be closed without tax hikes.

Then the Greenwich businessman went on to insist that Malloy, who enjoys strong support from public-sector labor unions, not only is preparing to boost taxes, but to do so significantly to protect the wages and benefits of his friends in labor.

“My opponent admits that he plans to raise your taxes and he will raise them — a lot,” Foley said. Malloy has said tax hikes are likely to be part of a larger plan to eliminate what effectively equals the largest deficit in state history.

But Malloy guaranteed that if Foley is elected and attempts to balance the budget solely by cutting discretionary spending, he would have to virtually gut the entire $2.8 billion package of state grants to cities and towns.

“What he really wants to do is shift the burden to local governments,” Malloy said, adding the Foley budget plan would result in thousands of dollars of property tax increases on homeowners statewide to compensate for the reduced grants.

Malloy offered his own budget pledge, guaranteeing that his first plan not only would be balanced without the fiscal gimmicks and borrowed funds that helped create the current deficit, but would not shred either the state’s social service safety net or its school systems.

“In fact,” he said. “I can’t make a whole lot of pledges other than I’ll do the best that I can. … Truth and transparency will be the law in the state of Connecticut.”

Foley said Malloy couldn’t have won his Democratic primary fight with Greenwich businessman Ned Lamont without strong union support, and charged Malloy is ready to protect his political base if elected.

“I think Dan has an inherent conflict that I won’t have in Hartford,” Foley said. “How can a governor, who has relied on these people to go up to Hartford, sit on the other side of the table” and seek concessions?

Malloy took heat from Foley for answering on a state employee union questionnaire that he didn’t intend to impose layoffs. Foley released that questionnaire to the news media immediately after his first live, televised debate with Malloy earlier this month.

When Malloy was asked at that event if he had taken a no-layoff pledge, “he looked you and the camera in the eye and said ‘no,’” Foley said. “People who are not truthful, cannot lead.”

But the Democratic nominee said he negotiated concession packages with labor unions during his tenure as mayor of Stamford, and would be effective doing the same as governor because he has the unions’ respect.

“I will treat everyone with respect. Now that would be different, wouldn’t it? ” said Malloy, who added he wouldn’t just pursue concessions, but also would test out several cost-saving initiatives proposed by unions but ignored by current and past administrations.

Malloy added after the debate that he hasn’t forfeited his right to order layoffs of state workers. “I’ve said many times that everything is on the table,” he added.

The two major party candidates also took contrasting pledges when it came to several recent legislative proposals tied to public-sector labor.

Foley agreed to back changes to binding arbitration to help communities better control municipal employee wages and benefit increases, and to the prevailing wage statutes, which mandate threshold wage levels for work on publicly financed construction projects — two changes the unions and Malloy both oppose.

“Connecticut should not join a race to the bottom,” Malloy said. “We should not try to decimate our working-class families.”

The Democratic nominee said he would back recent legislation that would mandate paid sick leave for part-time workers under certain conditions.

These would both protect workers and raise the quality of service in hotels, restaurants, nursing homes and other businesses where sick employees can pass along illnesses to patients or patrons, Malloy added.

But Foley called the plan a “job-killer” that “makes Connecticut radioactive” to prospective businesses looking to move here.

Though Tuesday’s debate lacked many of the loud verbal attacks the two candidates launched in their first contest, a brief exchange over capital punishment led each participant to level a personal attack at the other.

Foley, who supports the death penalty, questioned Malloy’s moral convictions when the former mayor repeated he favors repeal of the ultimate sanction, but only for future cases. Foley rejected Malloy’s argument that a repeal statute would not affect either Stephen Hayes or Joshua Komisarjevsky, the two men accused of killing a Cheshire woman and her two daughters during a home invasion in 2007.

“He can morally object to it, but he says it is appropriate for Steven Hayes?” Foley said. “This is a raw, political calculation.”

Malloy responded that “It is a moral issue. I’ve prayed upon it. I’ve studied it.”

Adding that he’s convinced the death penalty does not deter crime, Malloy told Foley “one thing I’ll never do, Tom, is play politics with this issue.”

Keith has spent most of his 31 years as a reporter specializing in state government finances, analyzing such topics as income tax equity, waste in government and the complex funding systems behind Connecticut’s transportation and social services networks. He has been the state finances reporter at CT Mirror since it launched in 2010. Prior to joining CT Mirror Keith was State Capitol bureau chief for The Journal Inquirer of Manchester, a reporter for the Day of New London, and a former contributing writer to The New York Times. Keith is a graduate of and a former journalism instructor at the University of Connecticut.

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