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Would he have supported a ban on assault weapons and large capacity magazines? That was one of the questions Republican Tom Foley wouldn’t definitively answer during the last televised debate before the Republican gubernatorial primary against Sen. John McKinney.

McKinney, who represents Newtown in the state Senate, voted in favor of the legislation which cost him the endorsement of Second Amendment groups. On Sunday morning he defended his vote during a WTNH debate and questioned Foley about what he would have supported after Foley accused him of endorsing restrictions that infringe on the rights of law abiding gun owners.

“One of the things that is frustrating is the fact that Tom you talked about how the bill would have been different and the restrictions went too far, but you still won’t say whether you would support a ban on assault weapons or [if] you would support a ban on large capacity magazines,” McKinney said. “. . . I know we may disagree and I respect those disagreements, but I think we need to be specific about the answers we give people.”

Foley replied: “Those restrictions have already been made and I recognize they’re unlikely to be changed unless the legislature takes some action.”

He said he’s been very clear that this bill failed to address the root cause of what happened in Newtown and would not prevent another Newtown from happening. He said the legislature failed to fill in the institutional support needed for families with children with serious mental health issues.

“Why you as a legislator for 15 years couldn’t help this governor figure that out is beyond me,” Foley said.

McKinney countered that the legislation did make positive changes toward helping people with mental health issues. He said there’s still debate about whether people with mental health issues should be in the community or in an institutional setting and the system can’t afford to spend overwhelming amounts of money on both.

Taxes and Spending

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McKinney said he has a plan to cut $1.4 billion in spending and end of the income tax for about 1 million residents making less than $75,000 a year. It will cost $750 million to cut taxes for those making less than $75,000 per year.

“We know we can do it. We reduce spending $1.4 billion a year the first year, hold that tight in the second year, you’ve got almost $450 million towards the $750 million tax cut,” McKinney said.

Foley said he would tackle the sales tax first. He would hold spending flat in the first year and cut the sales tax by a half percent in the second year from 6.35 to 5.85 percent and “that puts money in everybody’s pocket.” The proposal would cost about $300 million in revenues.

Foley argued McKinney’s proposal is very narrow because it would help some people, but not everyone.

He also argued that in order for McKinney to reduce taxes for the middle class he would have “to raise somebody else’s taxes in order to provide that tax relief.”

“That’s kind of the unanswered question, whose taxes are going to be raised?” Foley asked.

McKinney said Foley’s tax proposal would put $300 million back in the economy, while his proposal would put $750 million back into the economy.

“It’s hard to argue that having $300 million back in the economy is better than $750 million,” McKinney said.

He said those who make less than $75,000 a year comprise about 50 percent of the taxpayers in the state and would cover retirees, which would allow them to continue to live in the state.

Transportation

Foley capitalized on a question about road congestion and construction to point out that McKinney voted in 2005 to increase the gross receipts tax in order to boost the amount of money in the special transportation fund by about $140 million year.

“You’ve had some kind of epiphany here in the last few weeks and all of a sudden you’re a fiscal conservative,” Foley told McKinney. “When I’ve been talking about these kinds of changes needed for Connecticut’s government for over four years.”

Christine Stuart photo

McKinney whipped out a piece of paper that showed every budget he’s voted on for the past 16 years as a state lawmaker.

McKinney and Foley were both able to agree that he had voted for an increase in the gross receipts tax, which is a percentage of the wholesale price of gas, and a cigarette tax increase.

He said the bill containing the 50 cent cigarette tax increase also created the film tax credit program. He said in Foley’s hometown of Greenwich, Blue Sky Studios has brought in hundreds of jobs because of those tax credits. There’s also NBC Sports and ESPN, two companies benefiting from the film tax credit program.

“Are you telling me that you would vote against the film tax credit because you wouldn’t want to increase the cost of cigarettes?” McKinney said.

“No,” Foley said.

“Well that’s the choice you had, Tom,” McKinney said.

“You’re talking like a career politician,” Foley replied.

“I’m talking about leadership,” McKinney said in the back and forth exchange.

Foley tried to steer the conversation back to the gross receipts tax and the special transportation fund. In 2005 the legislature passed and former Gov. M. Jodi Rell signed a bill that set aside $1.3 billion to upgrade the state’s transportation infrastructure, including its railroads.

McKinney said that increase in the gross receipts tax helped purchase the new M-8 rail cars for the New Haven line and make improvements to the New Haven Rail Yard.

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

Foley said McKinney was simply defending raising taxes.

Following the debate, Foley said he didn’t say whether he would vote for it or against the transportation bill. He was simply citing McKinney’s vote to increase taxes.

“I support investment in transportation infrastructure,” Foley said. “I don’t support the aspects of that bill, which was raising the gross receipts tax, going into the general fund, and promising payments back into the special transportation fund that were never honored.”

But how would you pay for improvements to transportation infrastructure?

“There are a lot of other ways to preserve the special transportation fund without that bill,” Foley said. “They should have left the funds in the special transportation fund.”

How would you pay for it?

“Savings in other aspects of the state government,” Foley said.

Tax Credits

Foley criticized McKinney’s vote in October 2011 for a bipartisan jobs bill that created Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s “First Five” program. The program allows the state to create large tax credit programs for companies that agree to create more than 200 jobs over a specified period of time.

“The state’s anti-business so they have to bribe employers to stay here,” Foley said.

He said the state gave nearly $300 million to Jackson Labs for 300 jobs.

McKinney pointed out that he voted against the Jackson Labs bill, which was separate from the October 2011 jobs bill. And as far as the “First Five” is concerned there was never any vote to give money to specific companies, just legislation authorizing the administration to negotiate the deals.

When the program was first created it was thought the governor would use it to bring out-of-state companies to Connecticut, but very few of those deals have been struck. Most were given to companies like Cigna and Alexion, which were already here in the state.

McKinney pointed out that Connecticut government has given tax credits to get big companies for years and some deals have been more successful than others.

McKinney said he did vote for a bill this year that would allow United Technologies Corporation to use about $400 million in stranded tax credits they’ve earned over the years. McKinney suggested that approach should be used for other companies as well.

Foley was critical of the UTC deal.

“John is using career politician talk. He’s saying tax credits are okay. Tax credits are spending,” Foley said.

McKinney said a tax credit is not taxing something. He said that’s not spending. “That’s letting people keep their own money,” he added.

Foley countered “it’s spending money.”

“You’re a good Democrat if you believe that,” McKinney replied.

After The Debate

McKinney came out with a hard-hitting ad late this week that shows a clip from Foley’s press conference in Sprague where he accused the First Selectwoman Cathy Osten of failing.

“You have failed because you lost these jobs,” Foley says to the first selectwoman of Sprague and a group of mill workers after the global investment firm that owns Fusion Paperboard decided to close the business, leaving 140 people out of work.

“That’s Tom Foley, blaming workers for the Sprague paper mill closing,” the narrator says in the ad.

Foley accused McKinney of violating Ronald Reagan’s 11th commandment: “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.”

He said when he was in Sprague he was supporting the workers. He was being critical of the government’s handling of the situation.

As far as the election is concerned, Foley still feels good going into Tuesday.

“I have very loyal support. We’re not seeing that what he’s doing is eroding our support at all,” Foley said. “We feel very comfortable about the outcome on Tuesday.”

McKinney defended the ad. He said it wasn’t his words he was using, but the reaction to the press conference by editorial boards who called the performance a disgrace.

“Everyone criticized his performance in Sprague and I think it’s fair for me. I know it’s fair for me to say to Republicans this is what the world of Connecticut thought of his performance in Sprague,” McKinney said. “I wasn’t speaking ill of him. I was telling Republicans what he did.”

McKinney said what Foley did was very divisive and “people of the state need not somebody whose going to divide us, but someone whose going to bring us together.”

McKinney’s campaign, which had to move its party Tuesday night to a larger location, seems to have the momentum coming into the last few days before the Aug. 12 primary.

Click here to watch the hour long debate on WTNH.