FAIRFIELD–It took an introduction by a Jesuit priest, but Democrat Dan Malloy and Republican Tom Foley dialed back the zingers Tuesday in the third of their four televised debates in the race for governor.

Moderator John Dankosky of WNPR only had to interrupt once when Malloy and Foley briefly reverted to the hostilities all-too-evident in their previous encounters, sharply silencing them when an opportunity to question each other quickly devolved into cross-talk over Malloy’s characterization of Foley’s position on health-care mandates.

The two major-party candidates – Independent Tom Marsh was excluded, as was the case in previous televised forums – agreed on Connecticut’s need to change direction in economic development, health care, education and transportation.

But they disagreed on basic approaches to rising health costs and whom to blame for two decades of stagnant job growth: 16 years of Republican governors, John Rowland and M. Jodi Rell, or a generation of Democratic dominance in the General Assembly.

Malloy Foley Fairfield debate

Foley, Malloy greet the debate’s moderators, John Dankosky and Dennis House.

“For 16 years, we’ve had Republican governors supported by my opponent, who have gotten us absolutely nowhere. Dead last in job growth. Highest electric rates in the nation.” Malloy said. “Isn’t time we actually go in a different direction?”

“The laws in Connecticut are made by the legislature,” Foley said. “They pass the laws and they pass these mandates and these policies on our employers that have killed jobs. So, it’s not true our governors have done this.”

The debate on the campus of Fairfield, a Jesuit university, was broadcast live on WFSB-TV, CPTV and WNPR radio and rebroadcast at 7 p.m. on public television and radio.

The university’s president, the Rev. Jeffrey von Arx, cautioned the audience to behave prior to the live broadcast, but the candidates also seemed to take the admonition to heart after several debates in which each man continually interrupted the other.

The audience saw two candidates intent on staying on their best behavior as they staked out different positions on issues ranging from binding arbitration to health to UConn’s willingness to play a “home game” in New Jersey against Notre Dame.

“We talked more about the issues,” Foley said.

Malloy smiled when asked about the softer tone.

“I thought I was pretty darn forceful. I know this stuff, and I don’t mind sharing that we have very different points of view,” Malloy said.

Malloy was most aggressive in criticizing Foley’s call to reduce mandated coverage on group-health policies. Such mandates include wigs for cancer patients and hearing aids for children. He rejected Foley’s claim that he had been untruthful in describing the Republican’s willngness to curtail health coverage.

“This is a big difference between my opponent and myself,” Malloy said. “I don’t believe you make health care less expensive by cutting healthcare. I think you need to root out excess profit.”

“I have not proposed anything that would remove any health care coverage from anybody in Connecticut who already has it,” Foley replied. “You need to stick to the truth here.”

“You may have forgotten your health care plan, but I haven’t,” Malloy said.

He read aloud a provision that would allow employers to cut back on coverage if their costs rose to a certain percentage of payroll.

In response to a question about a recent report about high profits in the state’s privately managed HUSKY health program for low-income children, Malloy said he would renegotiate the management contracts.

Neither candidate was ready with a crisp answer to the opening question: What they would do in their first 100 days as governor to improve the state’s economic and fiscal environment?

Malloy repeated his wonkish promise to adopt generally accept accounting principles to give the state a better view of its finances.

“We’re going to change direction by first of all changing the rules,” Malloy said. He repeated his intention to consolidate the state’s three economic development agencies into one.

Foley responded with generalities about the state’s poor business climate.

“We’ve been pursuing polices for 25 years that have made Connectiut almost toxic to employers. Its driven jobs out of the state,” said Foley, a businessman seeking office for the first time. “We need to change direction.”

On the continuing fiscal crisis, Malloy and Foley each seized less on what the other said than on what they refused to say: Precisely how will they balance the next budget, now projected to be $3.3 billion in deficit.

Foley said that Malloy’s failure to outline detailed cuts means a $2,000 tax increase next year for household in Connecticut. Malloy said Foley’s insistence on no state tax increases means only one thing: cutting local aid and forcing sharp increases in property taxes.

“I haven’t heard Dan talk about how much he is going to reduce government spending,” Foley said. “Dan, I think you owe it to listeners to tell them which taxes you are going to raise and by how much.”

Foley said he would save $600 million by freezing spending at current-year levels. Malloy noted that much of the projected increased spending is for Medicaid, which pays to keep the elderly in nursing homes and and provide health care for the poor.

“What people are you going to put out on the street?” Malloy asked. “What people  trying to access health-care in clinics will you cut out?”

Foley said he would find the savings elsewhere.

They disagreed about mandates on municipalities and the state’s binding arbitration law, which has brought labor peace to the public sector by barring strikes by public employees, though some municipal officials grumble it is too tilted to labor.

“Tom doesn’t like mandates in health care, and he doesn’t like mandates to make sure people don’t go out on strike,” Malloy said.

Then Malloy smiled and said that as someone who likes to eat out from time to time, he is glad the state mandates restaurant inspections.

Both candidates praised recommendations made earlier in the day about ways to close the achievement gap in education, although Foley said he was more willing than Malloy to embrace charter schools and other measures that concern teachers’ unions.

The obligatory Fairfield County question about traffic congestion yielded little new, other than, perhaps, the admission by Foley he has not read the 200-page strategic plan by the state’s Transportation Strategy Board.

He said anything 200 pages long is too ill-focused to actually be a plan. Foley said he favored high-speed rail and wondered aloud if there was a way to divert cross-state truck traffic off I-95.

Malloy said the state needs to rework the exits on the Merritt Parkway and I-95 and invest in rail, including better parking at rail stations.

A lighter closing question by WFSB’s Dennis House, the co-moderator, about UConn signing on to play football at Notre Dame, then have a home game at the Meadowlands in New Jersey generated different answers.

“I actually wasn’t familiar with that decision,” Foley said.

Malloy said he would have insisted on the home game being played in Connecticut to bring in tourism dollars.

“If I had been governor at the time, I would have pulled the folks at UConn aside and said, ‘Let’s find somebody else to play,’ ” he said. “You know what happens is we diminish ourselves we agree to play a team not on our home field.”

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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