Republican Tom Foley admitted in the second televised gubernatorial debate Wednesday that he wouldn’t rule out state employee layoffs if he was elected governor.

“I said they have nothing to fear because if we have the cooperation of the unions we can reduce the state workforce through attrition,” Foley said at the Garde Theater in New London. “I’ve not committed to not making layoffs.”

The State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition, which negotiates on behalf of about 55,000 state employees, inked a deal with Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell that protects them from layoffs until July 1, 2011. The only two bargaining groups that aren’t protected from layoffs are the Correction Department guards and lieutenants. Collectively, salaries and benefits for all state employees amount to about $1 billion of the current $19.1 billion state budget.

In their debate last week at the Bushnell, Foley tried to assure state employees that they have nothing to fear if he’;s elected governor because he would eliminate jobs through attrition. He repeated that promise again after Wednesday’s debate.

“The state is under a contract right now not to lay off any employees until July 1 of next year, so I don’t think we’d be able to do that,” he said.  “If you don’t have enough money to pay people, you have to be able to reduce the size of the workforce.”

Mark Davis of News 8 tried to nail him down on the position which seemed to have shifted since the last debate.

“I said I would try to do this with the cooperation of the union leaders,“ Foley said. “The question isn’t whether I made a commitment or Dan made a commitment.. The question is whether or not Dan is telling the truth,” when he checked a no layoff box on a union questionnaire.

“I want to be very clear. Tom wants to characterize what I’ve said. I’ve been very clear there are no commitments,” Dan Malloy, the Democratic nominee, replied. “I don’t want to lay off people just like the Ambassador doesn’t want to layoff people.”

Malloy said he would do for the state what he did in Stamford.

“I’m not running to lay people off, I’m running to make government more efficient,” Malloy said.

He said he wouldn’t take a no-tax pledge, but he promised to treat everyone with respect and bring everyone to the table. Foley continued to say Malloy is beholden to the unions. Asked about Foley’s insistence of a union obligation, Malloy said, “that’s what he wants people to believe.”

“I stand with working class and middle class people and their values,” Malloy said. “And I’m proud of it.”

Foley also said he’d take a no-tax increase pledge, but it would only be for one year.

“My boss is the people of Connecticut, not any one union, not any one city, not any one group,” Malloy said.

“I’ve never made any deal with any union,“ Malloy said. He said Foley lacks a basic understanding of how government works.

“You know what union members are. They’re taxpayers,” Malloy added.

Foley continued to try and paint Malloy as union hack.

“I think Dan has an inherent conflict I won’t have in Hartford,” Foley said. “He counted on the unions to turnout the vote.”

“We’re going to balance our budget, but we’re not going to dismantle our safety net,” Malloy said. He said the first thing he would do as governor is bring some truth and transparency to the budgeting process by signing an executive order implementing Generally Accepted Accounting Principles or GAAP.

While there is no incumbent in the race because Rell decided not to seek re-election, Foley is behind slightly in the polls and is running in the role of the challenger. Foley spent a lot of time Wednesday questioning Malloy’s trustworthiness and truthfulness during the debate, but the back and forth sniping during the Courant’s debate last week wasn’t there Wednesday.

Following last week’s debate, Foley painted Malloy as “angry,” based on the passion of his remarks.

On Wednesday, Foley asked: “Dan, have you thought about switching to decaf?” But the candidates were far less feisty than they were during last week’s debate.

At times it felt like Davis, who was asking the questions, and moderator Ann Nyberg of News 8, might get into a brawl over when a certain topic or question had ended.

However, this debate was much more focused on the issues than last week’s event.

“We got policy differences out there,” Malloy said in the spin room after the debate. As far as his commitment to the unions, Malloy said “everything is on the table. They know that.”

“They’re trying to get someone who has the leadership skills to do that. And oh, by the way, you know that most of them weren’t with me in the primary,” Malloy added.

Foley called the debate the “grapple at the Garde after the brawl at the Bushnell.”

“I was happier with the debate tonight than the last one. We talked more about the issues and what the voters can expect from the next governor,” Foley said.

Some of the other issues discussed included taxes, the budget deficit, paid sick days, campaign finance laws, and prevailing wage laws.