Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman pitched her business savvy to the Modesto Chamber of Commerce on Thursday, touting her experience in private industry as a means to cut through California bureaucracy.
Whitman, 53, shared her top three priorities -- jobs, cutting government spending and fixing public education.
"I know there are so many things to look at, but if we don't do these things, I'm not sure anything else matters," she said.
The former eBay chief executive officer told an audience of about 45 that she's a proponent of decreasing or eliminating taxes and regulations on businesses, including companies in the Northern San Joaquin Valley.
"I want to make targeted tax cuts to get people hiring," she said. She criticized taxes that can restrict economic growth, such as making businesses pay startup taxes or sales taxes on new equipment.
It's those conditions that force companies out of California, she argued, which means fewer jobs.
Her opponent in the Republican primary, Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, stressed similar points in a November visit to the Modesto chamber. Poizner, unlike Whitman, favors across-the-board tax cuts.
Whitman, fueled by millions of dollars in spending on advertising, is building a commanding lead over Poizner. A Public Policy Institute of California poll released Thursday shows 61 percent of likely voters choosing Whitman and 11 percent favoring Poizner.
The poll shows that Whitman would be neck and neck with Attorney General Jerry Brown, a Democrat, in the November general election if she gets past the primary.
Whitman also spoke to the chamber about another San Joaquin Valley priority: water.
She supports a water bond that will appear on November's ballot. The bond, crafted by Sen. Dave Cogdill of Modesto, would provide $11 billion to improve and expand California's water infrastructure.
She took issue with about $2 billion in special amendments that were added to the bill to build support among lawmakers, but echoed Cogdill when she said: "I live in the real world where you have to get things done. Perfection is the enemy of progress."
Whitman suggested renegotiating labor agreements to lower pensions for public employees, and increasing the retirement age to 65 from 55 to reduce state spending.
"We have a spending problem of epic proportions," she said. "We have layers of bureaucracy, layers of regulations. Yet we have no fiscal leadership."
Bee staff writer Michelle Hatfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2339.