LITTLE ROCK — A debate between the major-party candidates for governor at times grew heated Friday, with Republican Asa Hutchinson telling Democrat Mike Ross he was being too sensitive and Ross asking if Hutchinson needed him to talk more slowly.

LITTLE ROCK — A debate between the major-party candidates for governor at times grew heated Friday, with Republican Asa Hutchinson telling Democrat Mike Ross he was being too sensitive and Ross asking if Hutchinson needed him to talk more slowly.


The debate, the first televised face-off between the candidates, was held in Fayetteville and broadcast live on television stations KARK, KNWA and KTAL. The two former congressmen sat across from each other at a table and took questions from moderators for about an hour.


As they have throughout the race, the candidates sparred over their rival tax plans. Hutchinson has pledged in his first year in office to provide a $100 million tax cut for people earning between $20,400 and $75,000 a year, with other cuts to come later. Ross has proposed phasing in $575 million in cuts, as the state can afford them, for all Arkansans earning less than $75,000.


"I wanted to make it something that was doable, and that is $100 million." Hutchinson said. "When you do $100 million and limit it to that, you’ve got to target it, and it’s toward the middle class. The lower income are already in a low-income tax bracket. The high income, they can wait till later. Let’s give it to the middle class first."


Hutchinson said Ross initially warned that his plan was irresponsible but "now he even proposes something even larger than what I proposed."


Ross responded, "I never thought I’d see the day that a Republican candidate in Congressman Hutchinson here would criticize me for wanting to cut people’s taxes too much. I subscribe to the Governor Beebe model."


Beebe, who is barred by term limits from seeking re-election, has gradually phased in cuts to the state sales tax on groceries over his two terms in office.


Ross said, "Here’s the difference between my plan and Congressman Hutchinson’s: He has promised every voter in this state that he will cut taxes $100 million in his first year in office, when the Department of Finance and (Administration) will tell you that at best we’re going to have a $50 million net revenue growth. That leaves a $50 million deficit."


Hutchinson said growth in state revenues would make his tax cut affordable.


Ross also has pledged to spend $37 million to make pre-kindergarten education accessible to every 4-year-old in the state. His plan would make the program free to families earning up to 300 percent of the poverty level — it is free now to those earning up to 200 percent of the poverty level — and would halve the current cost for families earning between 300 and 400 percent of the poverty level.


Ross said he would phase in the proposal as the state can afford it, also following "the Beebe model."


Hutchinson said he supports fully funding the existing pre-K program, but he supports using taxpayer dollars to help "those who need it the most." He said improving technology education and career education, including having computer science taught in every high school in the state, would be the best way to prepare the future workforce.


Ross said Hutchinson voted against funding for pre-K in Washington.


"I get confused: Is this the Washington Asa or is this the Arkansas Asa? I wish the real Asa Hutchinson would stand up," Ross said.


Hutchinson said that if Ross wanted to talk about his voting record, then he would mention that Ross "voted for (House Minority leader) Nancy Pelosi for speaker four times and he voted against her twice."


"Now wait a minute," Ross said. "The only time Nancy Pelosi had an opponent, I gave a nominating speech for her opponent with her sitting in the front row."


"Mike, Mike, I just said you voted for her four times," Hutchinson said. "I said you voted against her as well. Don’t get so sensitive about your flip-flopping on Nancy Pelosi."


In a discussion of the private option, Arkansas’ version of Medicaid expansion, Ross said he will fight to keep the program.


"Two hundred thousand Arkansans are going to be healthier now, which will help us create a more educated and trained and skilled workforce to bring more and better paying jobs to Arkansas," he said.


Ross said Hutchinson "continues to dodge" the issue.


Hutchinson responded, "Clearly the private option is doing good things out there for our rural hospitals, but I would be irresponsible as a governor and as a leader of this state to pledge 10 percent support without modification, without looking at it closely and the cost down the road for our children and grandchildren."


Ross again accused Hutchinson of dodging the issue and added several other criticisms, prompting Hutchinson to ask the moderators if he could respond "because he just unloads a barrage here."


"I’m sorry, am I going too fast for you?" Ross asked Hutchinson.


The election will be Nov. 4.