The stark difference between the two candidates for governor was once again on display Wednesday night at The Garde Arts Center in New London as Republican Tom Foley and Democrat Dan Malloy discussed how they would approach the huge challenges facing the state. The $3.4-billion budget deficit, the role the state employee unions have to play in addressing that red ink and the death penalty were all hotly contested.

The budget deficit was the first question of the forum as it is the most daunting problem facing the next governor. Malloy, showing he has faced budgetary challenges as mayor of Stamford, said other than the state’s social service safety net, “everything is on the table.” And that includes possible union concessions. He made it clear though, that he planned to work with labor rather than balance the budget on their backs.

Foley, saying Malloy had already cut a deal with state employee unions, claimed he wouldn’t resort to layoffs as long as “the unions cooperated.” In other words, “do what I want or your jobs will be gone.” Foley implausibly claimed again that he could fill the budget hole without finding some new revenue or decimating state services.

Although most people’s eyes glaze over when he brings up the topic, Malloy’s plan to institute Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) is vital for future state budgets. Borrowing, one-time revenues and other gimmicks are much harder to use under GAAP.

Predictably, the death penalty was a hot-button issue. Malloy restated his intention to sign a bill abolishing the death penalty prospectively or going forward. Foley supports the current law (which, by the way, is not supported by most death penalty advocates. They want a more expedited process).

The debate itself was once again marred by poor performances by the sponsors. Moderator Ann Nyberg, who was criticized here and by others for losing control of the US Senate debate Tuesday night, had to moderate her own colleague and panelist, chief political reporter for News 8 TV Mark Davis. Davis, somewhat to his credit, interrupted the candidates when they didn’t answer the question to Davis’ liking. “Please, Mark…,” Nyberg implored. It wasn’t as bad as Tuesday night but that chaotic mess set the bar pretty low.