WEST HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) -- The two Republican candidates for Connecticut's open U.S. Senate seat tussled Wednesday night over tax policy and tax returns during their final debate before next month's GOP primary.
Wealthy, former wrestling executive Linda McMahon, the party's endorsed candidate, said during a live, televised debate hosted by NBC Connecticut that she will release her federal income tax returns for 2011, but only when they are finished.
"When it's done, we'll release them," she said, adding how she and her husband Vince McMahon, the CEO of WWE, formerly known as World Wrestling Entertainment, filed for an extension with the IRS because they are still awaiting information that they have "no control" over.
She would not commit to releasing her 2010 returns.
McMahon did not provide a date or say whether the 2011 returns will be released before the Aug. 14 primary, which prompted criticism from her GOP rival, former U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays. He said by not providing a timeframe for when the tax returns will be released "calls into question her integrity." He also accused her of having no respect for the political process and wanting to buy the election.
"She has control over that," said Shays, who has released his 2011 returns to the media. "The fact she won't tell you when is what's surprising."
The state Democratic Party on Wednesday announced it had launched a new website "to hold Linda McMahon accountable to the people of Connecticut" by tracking the number of days that have passed since she said she would release her returns. Releasing tax returns is a hot issue in the presidential race as well. Republican Mitt Romney, a wealthy former businessman, is facing criticism from Democratic President Barack Obama for breaking tradition and releasing just one year of personal tax returns and promising to release a second.
Wednesday's debate was the second, one-on-one debate between the two candidates. They last met June 14 at the University of Connecticut. As in that debate, McMahon stuck to her talking points about being a job-creator with a plan for rejuvenating the economy that includes a middle class tax cut. She painted Shays as a career politician who was part of the problem while serving in Congress and doesn't understand the needs of business owners.
Shays continued making his argument that he's the best-qualified candidate given his two decades in Congress and that McMahon's record of running WWE is dubious and does not qualify her to fill the job being vacated by U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman, an independent.
At several points, he repeated criticisms of WWE and its programming and how McMahon had contributed to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in the past, helping to defeat former U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons and other Republicans. While McMahon did not address the DCCC criticism, she accused Shays of getting tied up in the "Hollywood scripting" of the WWE.
The two also sparred over their dueling tax reform and economic plans. McMahon contends that she is the only candidate with a plan that has been "vetted." Her proposal lowers the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 25 percent and provides a tax cut to middle-class taxpayers, which McMahon said would average $500 a month for the average family of four in Connecticut earning $125,000 a year.
"I have had the numbers tested. I know they work. And it's a fully comprehensive plan," she said. "A lot of the things he talks about have not been vetted. Then numbers haven't been run against it. Mine have. I didn't want to put out a plan that wasn't tested."
Shays countered that his proposal would affect more families by replacing the current six tax brackets with three. To help offset the lower tax rates, his plan would eliminate most deductions and cap the few that would remain.
Shays said he doubts McMahon's proposal would receive much consideration in Washington.
"This is her plan," he said, holding up McMahon's booklet to reporters after the debate. "She says it was vetted. It was. She paid $57,000 to have them say it adds up. But it doesn't add up. How does she pay for her tax cut?"
A June 6 Quinnipiac University Poll showed McMahon has expanded her lead over Shays, to 59 percent to 30 percent. The survey of 381 Republicans had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 5 percentage points. McMahon had previously led Shays 51 percent to 42 percent, according to a March 22 Quinnipiac Poll.
On the Democratic side, U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy, his party's endorsed candidate, is facing a primary challenge from former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz. They also face a primary on Aug. 14.
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