San Diego's business community had an opportunity to hear from both leading Republican candidates for California governor Monday, as Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner appeared at a San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp. luncheon.
Poizner, the current California insurance commissioner, and Whitman, the former president and chief executive of eBay (Nasdaq: EBAY), both touted tax cuts and decreased regulation as keys to fixing California's fiscal deficits and unemployment, but each have a different emphasis.
Poizner, for example, called tax cuts the "centerpiece" of his economic plan, while Whitman talked about her three-point plan she'd like to bring into office.
"I think we're in the worst economic meltdown since the inception of the state 160 years ago," Poizner said. "I want to cut taxes across the board as one of the first steps that I would take to make California more competitive. I'm proposing a 10 percent cut in sales taxes, a 10 percent cut in personal income taxes -- every bracket, a 10 percent cut in corporate taxes, and a 50 percent cut in capitol gains taxes."
Whitman said California is "bleeding jobs" to nearby states like Colorado, Arizona and Nevada, and that the state needs to find a way to hang onto its innovation without losing jobs. She proposes a series of changes.
"All we have to do is, I think really in many ways, have a change in point of view of how we think about business in California," Whitman said. "An economic development team will make an enormous difference, a small set of tax decreases will make an enormous difference."
She also proposes a moratorium on regulations.
Both Poizner and Whitman suggest taking much of the power over California's schools away from Sacramento and giving it to local school departments.
They also said they want more charter schools. Poizner has a book coming out soon on the year he spent as a public school teacher, which he said gave him an insider's view on what works and what doesn't.
Poizner and Whitman were interviewed separately at the EDC luncheon, and two local business leaders accompanied each, discussing the issues.
Andrew Clark, founder, president and CEO of Bridgepoint Education (NYSE: BPI), and Stath Karras, executive managing director of the investment sales group at Cushman & Wakefield joined Poizner.
Doug Hutcheson, president and CEO of Leap Wireless/Cricket Communications (Nasdaq: LEAP) and Jeff Moorad, vice chairman, CEO and principal owner of the San Diego Padres, joined Whitman.
Jerry Brown, California's attorney general and a leading Democratic candidate for governor, was asked to attend the event, but declined.
Though they are both in favor of curbing government spending, Poizner and Whitman also are in favor of spending to improve the state's infrastructure.
They acknowledged that this has an especially big impact on San Diego, as the region is suffering from the state's aging water system.
Poizner said he has qualms about a proposed $11 billion infrastructure bond being proposed by the state because, according to him, about $3 billion is "pork." He said he also believes that a federal judge's ruling that stopped pumping in the Northern California delta is responsible for much of the state's water crisis, and he would fight that ruling all the way to supreme court.
"We should have elected officials here in the state of California making these water decisions, not un-elected people from Washington, D.C.," he said. "The only way to solve the water crisis is to turn those pipes back on."
Whitman again targeted regulation, saying she cares about the environment, but some environmental protections like the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) have "become an excuse to sue."
"We're going to have to bring down environmental regulations in sync with the needs of jobs for people," she said.
On border issues, only Poizner brought up immigration during the program, saying that illegal immigration must stop because it brings in people who use the state's resources and don't pay taxes.
Whitman was asked after the formal portion of the event if immigration is important to her, and said she is against amnesty, and wants to use more technological innovation to secure the border.
Poizner was not available for press comment after the official event Monday.
Whitman spoke briefly with reporters though, and said she is also impressed with the partnerships San Diego's universities have developed with the local biotech cluster, and if elected, she would try to encourage more similar programs.
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