Block, Fung spar in Republican gov debate

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The verbal jousting match between Republican gubernatorial hopefuls Ken Block and Allan Fung continued Tuesday as the two candidates lobbed criticism at one another during their first live television debate.

The hour-long debate held at the Providence Performing Arts Center and hosted by WPRI 12 and The Providence Journal focused largely on taxes and Rhode Island’s stagnant economy while Block and Fung attempted to portray each other as unqualified to serve as Rhode Island’s next governor.

Block, the 48-year-old who ran for governor in 2010 as a member of the Moderate Party before becoming a Republican, painted himself as a fiscally conservative outsider who will save the state $1 billion during his first term while defending himself against relentless criticism from Fung that he twice voted for President Obama.

Fung, 44, framed himself as a successful, pro-business Cranston mayor who has made “real reforms” in Rhode Island’s third-largest city since taking office in 2009. But Fung was forced to battle back against “mismanagement” claims from Block over how he handled a police department parking ticket scandal over the last year.

“This is not governance, this is not leadership,” Block said of Fung’s handling of accusations that police officers deliberately issued parking tickets in certain city neighborhoods as retribution after several councilmen voted against a union contract. Fung brought in the State Police and his police chief ultimately resigned earlier this year.

As he has done in one commercial and several mail pieces, Fung continued to accuse Block of supporting the controversial Affordable Care Act because he voted for Obama in 2008 and again in 2012. He argued that Block should have known that Obamacare could add additional costs to small businesses.

“Voters deserve to know the truth about Ken Block and what he stands for,” Fung said.

The governor’s office is open because Democratic incumbent Lincoln Chafee is not seeking re-election after one term in office. Block or Fung will take on the winner of the Democratic primary between state Treasurer Gina Raimondo, Providence Mayor Angel Taveras, Clay Pell and Todd Giroux. Raimondo, Taveras and Pell took part in their first televised debate last week.

The sparring match aside, Block and Fung largely agreed on several of the key issues facing Rhode Island, arguing that the state needs to reduce taxes and regulations to create a more business friendly economic climate.

Block pledged to save Rhode Island more than $100 million by finding waste and fraud throughout state government and by improving a “broken” unemployment insurance program that he believes has been abused. Block said his savings plan would allow the state to eventually reduce taxes across the board.

Fung said he has proposed a “realistic plan” for cutting taxes “deeper” than any other candidate in the race, claiming that he could find the money to do so by creating a more efficient government. He pledged to privatize the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA) and control personnel costs across state departments.

Both candidates pledged to appoint an independent commission to investigate the failed 38 Studios deal and said they oppose paying back bondholders. Fung said he would veto any budget that includes the bond payments.

Both Block and Fung said they are pro-choice and supporters of a bill to ban the so-called master lever They said they oppose legalizing marijuana, a $9 minimum wage and providing driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants. Each said they support the current state policy that grants in-state tuition to some undocumented students. Asked to assign a letter grade to former Gov. Don Carcieri’s two terms in office between 2003 and 2010, Block gave the Republican a B-. Fung gave Carcieri a C because of his supporter for “Deep Water and 38 Studios.”

On guns, the two candidates said their positions have evolved in recent years after previous support for more firearm regulations. Fung referred to himself as a “recreational shooter,” but both candidates said they do not own a gun.

The two candidates have spent much of 2014 jockeying for position within the state  with Block aligning himself with conservative lawmakers and activists and Fung winning support from former Gov. Lincoln Almond as well as Carol Mumford and Steve Frias, Rhode Island’s representatives on the Republican National Committee.

Block has jumped out to a financial advantage over Fung, thanks in large part to the $600,000 he has loaned his campaign since last December. A WPRI.com review of filings with the Rhode Island Board of Elections showed Block had $653,119 in his war chest as of March 31. Fung reported $445,514 cash on hand.

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