- Associated Press - Sunday, August 10, 2014

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) - Greenwich businessman Tom Foley and Senate Minority Leader John McKinney made their final pitches to Republican primary voters Sunday, each claiming to have the skills and background to improve Connecticut’s economy and defeat Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in November.

The two were participating in a live forum sponsored by WTNH-TV in New Haven. It was the final opportunity for the Fairfield County Republicans to differentiate themselves for the small group of Republican voters expected to turn out for Tuesday’s primary.

Foley tried to paint McKinney, a 16-year-veteran of the General Assembly, as a political insider like Malloy. Throughout the hourlong forum, Foley frequently called McKinney a career politician, accusing him of supporting tax increases and spending policies that have hurt the state’s economy. Foley contends his 35 years of business experience suits him for controlling state spending and cutting taxes.

“I’m glad you’ve finally come on board and seen the light,” said Foley, in reference to McKinney’s recent plan to eliminate personal income taxes on those who make less than $75,000 a year. “But your voting record certainly doesn’t support what you’re taking about right now.”

McKinney, who contends his tax-cutting plan would be more effective than Foley’s proposal to cut the 6.35 percent sales tax by half a percent, accused Foley of misrepresenting his voting record in the legislature. McKinney held up a copy of every state budget proposal he has voted on.

“I’ve had 10 budget votes over 16 years that increased taxes and voted against all but one,” McKinney said.

McKinney said he supported increasing the state’s cigarette tax from $1.51 to $2 a pack in 2007 because the same bill included a new film tax credit program, which he said helped Blue Sky Studios, the successful computer animation studio in Foley’s hometown. McKinney said he also voted that same year for a phased-in tax increase on the wholesale price of gasoline that’s charged to companies distributing petroleum products because it would help pay for a major rail improvement initiative.

“These are all excuses, but you’ve raised taxes, John, repeatedly,” Foley said.

“Tom, Tom, it’s called leadership,” McKinney replied.

“Raising taxes is leadership? Is that how you’d lead as governor?” Foley asked.

“Tom, you have to pay for things,” McKinney said. “And you don’t want to answer a single question. You want to be devoid of specifics.”

The pair also differed over McKinney’s support of a $400 million tax credit deal with United Technologies Corp. in return for $500 million in promised upgrades at Pratt & Whitney, Sikorsky and UTC Aerospace facilities. Foley insisted a tax credit is not a “freebie,” but a loss in state revenue. McKinney, however, said tax credits are a way for the government to return money to taxpayers and ultimately encourage companies like UTC to remain and grow in the state.

Meanwhile, both expressed concerns with the state’s new medical marijuana program, which is expected to be up and running soon. Each said he opposed efforts to legalize it for recreational use.

Both candidates said they feel good about their chances of winning Tuesday. Foley, who was endorsed by state Republicans at the party’s convention and is considered the favorite, said he doesn’t believe McKinney’s criticisms have eroded his support. But McKinney, who has received more endorsements from major Connecticut newspapers than Foley, said he believes momentum is building for his campaign.

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Follow Sue Haigh on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SusanHaighAP.

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