The two Democratic contenders for governor squared off on jobs, school funding and state spending Tuesday night in their first televised debate.

Dan Malloy, the former seven-term Stamford mayor, said his experience has prepared him to become Connecticut's highest elected official.

Ned Lamont of Greenwich said his business career and outsider perspective makes him better able to tackle the state's problems.

In an hour-long head-to-head, broken up only by a brief intermission that featured each candidate's commercials, Lamont and Malloy agreed on the state's need to cut expenses and allow for continued local control of public schools.

Both candidates spoke against the state's business-entity tax of $250 a year that's paid by about 10,000 small businesses; and would support efforts to reduce health care costs in the workplace.

"Really, what we need is a governor who understands that it is unfair and unreasonable to spend 76 percent more for electricity in this state than the national average," Malloy said. "We need a governor who's going to wrestle that problem to the ground."

"It's small business that creates all the jobs in our country, in our state, and over the last 20 years we've been dead last in job creation," Lamont said. "We throw hundreds of millions of dollars a year at big business and big banks, trying to get them across the border and we shortchange small business."

But it was during a brief back-and-forth over the state's campaign-finance reforms of 2005 that Malloy seemed to get under Lamont's skin.

The confrontation came in response to a question from a viewer of NBC Connecticut who wanted the candidates to comment on the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing corporations and unions to make unlimited campaign contributions.

"I'm a big believer, right now, as we go forward in this election: small money donations, doing everything we can to expand opportunity for people," Lamont said. He stressed that he is not taking money from political action committees, lobbyists or state contractors.

"I believe strongly that what we've got to do is honor the system that we've got," he said.

"I think it's so important to get pay-to-play out of the system. It's so important that you turn that around and give the voters confidence, confidence that their elected official is there fighting for them," he said, then taking a line from Lowell P. Weicker's 1990 gubernatorial campaign. "I'll be nobody's man but yours."

Malloy charged that in not participating in the state's voluntary campaign-finance program, Lamont, a millionaire cable-television executive, has contributed from his personal wealth and accepted big checks from Wall Street executives.

Malloy, the first gubernatorial candidate to meet the threshold of small contributions that may net him nearly $9 million in public funding for a primary and general election, said that he has played by the rules in gathering thousands of checks totaling $100 or less.

"Mr. Lamont's talked about the rules that he's living by, but those rules are actually in the law, part of the package that gave the opportunity to Mr. Lamont to live within the clean-elections program," Malloy said.

"He chose not to do that," Malloy said. "Under his system of raising money he can write checks in the amount as great as, I guess, about $2 million so far."

On a question of retail sales of alcohol on Sundays, both candidates said they would support a change in law to allow it.

Both Lamont and Malloy agreed that tolls would not be in their plans if they become the next governor.

"Overwhelmingly, the people of Connecticut are against bringing tolls back," said Malloy, warning that taxpayers believe the additional revenue would feed the state's habit for "out of control" spending.

"If we're going to have tolls, those monies have to be directed to transportation," Malloy said.