Brown countered that more than 80% of the benefit would go to those making at least half a million dollars a year. "And there's not one guarantee they'll spend that money in California," he said, wheeling to add: "Ms. Whitman, I'd like to ask you: How much money will you save if this tax break were in effect this year or last year?"
"You know what, I'm an investor. And investors will benefit from this, but so will job creators. And I was a job creator," Whitman said.
"And you know what, we've got to get someone in office who knows what the conditions are for small business to grow and thrive. My track record is creating jobs. My business is creating jobs. Your business is politics. You've been doing this for 40 years. And you have been part of the war on jobs in this state for 40 years."
Neither of the candidates has floated plans to deal completely with the state's perennial budget woes, but Whitman argued Tuesday that her outsider status gave her more credibility to tackle entrenched problems.
"If you like the process we have in Sacramento, if you think this has worked for Californians, then you should elect Jerry Brown, because if he goes to Sacramento, it will be the same old same old," she said.
But Brown argued that the state would be in far better shape had reforms he suggested as governor been carried out.
"I've been in the kitchen, I've taken the heat, I know what it is to say yes and what it is to say no," he said. "She's been in bleachers, [looking] from the Internet company at what's happening in government. I've been in this government, I love California, I know how it works and I've got the intestinal fortitude to do what is right for California."
The candidates differed on the state's global warming law, with Whitman repeating her plan to postpone it for a year of study into its effect on jobs, and Brown declaring that such a move would rattle green investors looking for certainty.
The two also clashed on Brown's response to the passage of Proposition 8, the 2008 measure that outlawed same-sex marriage. Whitman struck at his refusal to defend the measure in court, and Brown said he was not required to defend a measure that a judge had found unconstitutional.
The high tension was broken a few times, with what looked to be relief from both candidates.
At one point, Whitman was mocking Brown's plan to cut 10% to 15% of the governor's own budget if he is elected. "Do you know how much the governor's budget is?" Whitman asked.
"Yeah, it's a lot bigger than when I was there," he responded, to laughs from the audience.
Brown also stumbled, and recovered to laughs from the crowd, when he was describing his support from police chiefs.
"I've got the police chiefs in my back — backing me because they know I'm tough on crime," he said.
Whitman quickly interjected with a laugh: "I think he said he's got the police chiefs in his back pocket."
Brown smiled, then mocked his 40-year career.
"Sometimes, unaccustomed as I am to politics, I stumble in one of my phrases," he said.
Whitman dumps another $20 million into her campaign
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Times staff writers Seema Mehta and Michael J. Mishak contributed to this report from San Rafael.