Calif. GOP hopefuls spar on taxes, immigration |

Calif. GOP hopefuls spar on taxes, immigration

COSTA MESA- The two Republicans seeking their party’s nomination for governor sparred Monday over what kind of tax cuts would best stimulate California’s faltering economy and whether the state should cut off services to illegal immigrants.

In the first debate of the primary campaign, former eBay chief executive Meg Whitman said California should eliminate taxes on manufacturing and startups as a way to create private-sector jobs.

Her rival, state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, is advocating a “10-10-10” plan that would cut income, sales and corporate taxes by 10 percent. He said Whitman’s targeted tax cuts would not go far enough and allow lawmakers in the state Capitol to pick which industries and people benefit most.

“Only massive overhaul will do,” Poizner said. “That’s why one of the centerpieces of my campaign is to cut taxes broadly across the board.”

Whitman called that approach irresponsible, given the $20 billion budget deficit projected for California through June 2011.

“That will be a $30 billion deficit $10 billion on top of the $20 billion we already have,” she said of Poizner’s approach. “We cannot afford it.”

Monday’s debate, organized by the conservative Orange County-based group New Majority California, offered both candidates an opportunity to introduce themselves to voters who know little about them.

Whitman, a billionaire, has a 30-point lead in early polling after spending millions of dollars on television and radio advertising. Poizner, a Silicon Valley multimillionaire, has criticized her for running a tightly choreographed campaign and, until recently, keeping her distance from reporters.

Many voters remain undecided, making Monday’s debate perhaps the most important point in the campaign to date. It gave both candidates a chance to outline their positions in a public forum and demonstrate how they handle criticism.

Poizner took an aggressive approach in arguing that he is the more conservative candidate, despite both candidates’ history of supporting Democratic candidates and causes. Both have veered to the right as they campaign for GOP primary votes.

Repeating a point he made during the state party convention over the weekend, Poizner said California needs to “turn off the magnets” of state-funded services such as health care and education that he said draw illegal immigrants.

“We just really differ here. I want to end illegal immigration once and for all. … Meg doesn’t want to go that far,” he said.

Whitman has said she does not favor eliminating education and health care for children who came to the country illegally, saying they should not be blamed for the actions of their parents. She also said Poizner has flip-flopped on the issue.

“Steve’s done a complete about-face from where he was in 2004-2005,” when he endorsed President George W. Bush’s immigration proposal that called for providing a pathway to citizenship.

The winner of the June 8 GOP primary will face state Attorney General Jerry Brown, a former two-term governor who has no serious challenger in the Democratic primary.

Whichever Republican emerges to run against Brown in the general election faces an immediate challenge. Republicans represent less than a third of registered voters statewide, meaning Whitman or Poizner will have to take more centrist views if they hope to appeal to the 20 percent of California voters who are registered as independents.

Both GOP rivals have focused their campaigns on taming the state’s annual budget deficits and creating private-sector jobs. They’re counting on those themes resonating with voters angry over lost jobs and a persistent national recession.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, is in the last year of his second and final term.

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