Gov. Herbert, Corroon tangle over taxes, ethics

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Gov. Gary Herbert and his Democratic rival sparred over government ethics and questions about which candidate really raised taxes during their first live broadcast debate on Thursday.

Herbert and Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon broke little new ground during their second debate of the election season, and the duo's distaste for each other was visibly apparent throughout the showdown outside of KUTV's downtown studio in front of a large gathering of supporters for both candidates.

The role of campaign contributions and the awarding of state contracts continued to follow Herbert, who received more than $80,000 from a group of companies that won a $1.1 billion contract to rebuild Interstate 15. One of the losing bidders was later paid a $13 million settlement after it claimed Utah Department of Transportation executives exhibited a pattern of favoritism toward the winning bidder.

Utah is one of only a few states that places no limits on who can donate to a campaign, how large those contributions can be or how frequently they can be made.

Corroon reiterated his position that he supports campaign contribution limits and Herbert does not.

"Citizens need to have faith in their government. They need to have faith that big money is not influencing government," Corroon said in response to a question from a Utahns for Ethical Government lawyer. "I support having campaign finance limits of $10,000. I support the prohibition of contractors who do business with the state from being able to give contributions to candidates."

Herbert opposes campaign contribution limits because he believes they would result in only the rich and famous being capable of running a campaign. He also said he believes it violates freedom of speech laws, although federal courts have ruled otherwise.

Herbert frequently became annoyed when Corroon would bring up the I-15 contract and the donations he has received, saying Corroon is attacking his integrity, as well as those of the employees of UDOT and the companies who have legally donated to his campaign.

For his part, Herbert noted he signed into law a package of ethics laws his first year in office. That includes a bill prohibiting the personal use of campaign cash.

"There's been some significant reformation that's been taking place with ethics reform. I reject the idea that because I don't support campaign donation limits, that I somehow don't support ethics reform," Herbert said.

The two also tangled over taxes. Herbert denied raising the tobacco tax because he didn't sign it into law, although he built it into his budget. By not vetoing the tobacco tax and not signing it, it has the effect of becoming law.

Herbert said the state income tax and the sales tax on food were lowered on his watch, although he didn't mention he was the lieutenant governor in former Gov. Jon Huntsman's administration at the time when those cuts occurred.

Huntsman resigned last summer to become U.S. ambassador to China, leaving Herbert in charge until this fall's special election to fill out the remainder of his term that expires in 2012.

Herbert also didn't note that vehicle registration fees also increased during that same time period.

Herbert mentioned that Corroon's administration raised police fees. Corroon responded by saying Salt Lake County's budget is smaller than it was when he took office in 2005, while the state budget has grown 26 percent during the same period.

"Salt Lake County implemented a police fee because we believe in public safety," Corroon said. "Salt Lake County government has not raised overall property taxes in 10 years other than voter approved initiatives and judgment levies against the county."

Public education was also a subject of the debate. Utah has the nation's largest class sizes and spends less per student than any other state.

Herbert said his education plan is to grow the economy to help pay for education, but he was waiting for specific recommendations on other ways to improve education for a commission he has formed.

Corroon said Herbert has been in office too long to not have a plan of his own. Corroon's plan includes requiring additional math and science classes before graduation.

Herbert has also not said what kind of immigration reform he will endorse, but did say it isn't reasonable or cost effective to round up and deport all illegal immigrants in the state. Corroon said he supports punishing businesses who hire illegal immigrants.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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