Town Hall Los Angeles hosted a discussion between former California governors Pete Wilson and Gray Davis yesterday with the two disagreeing over environmental law regulations and touching on other policy issues and state politics.

Wilson argued that the reason California had both the highest taxes and the highest poverty rates in the country is because decisions by the legislature made it difficult to create jobs. The former Republican governor said that excessive regulation was driving jobs away from California, particularly the application of CEQA, the California Environmental Quality Act, when used to thwart projects that would create jobs.

He also criticized AB 32, the Global Warming Solution Act, saying California employers have to meet standards no employers in other states have to meet. He predicted that the state would fall from its ranking as the eighth largest economy in the world because of the energy cost increases that will result from AB 32. In answer to a question by panel moderator Jim Newton, former Los Angeles Times editor and columnist, Wilson said he would roll back the provisions of AB 32.

Governor Davis, a Democrat, said excessive regulation was a problem but that there was nothing wrong with laws like AB 32 or CEQA, which he supported. He reminded the Town Hall Los Angeles audience that Gov. Ronald Reagan had signed CEQA into law. On the other hand, he acknowledged some problems with the law relaying a story about a project that would create 70,000 jobs but was tied up in litigation for five years because of a CEQA inspired lawsuit. He said this type of CEQA use would scare off investors.

Saying “life is a balance,” Davis argued that California was not standing alone in battling climate change pointing to other states and Canadian provinces that had taken steps in that direction. He suggested the CEQA law be tweaked and refined.

To which Wilson countered, he sees no tweaks coming out of the legislature.

Both Wilson and Davis defended Governor Jerry Brown’s position on water cutbacks, which generally left farmers untouched by the new mandated cuts. Both former governors said the farmers have suffered much already with the ongoing drought. Davis argued for more use of recycled water; Wilson better water storage facilities.

Wilson was challenged by a question from the audience if he reconsidered his position on Proposition 187 to deny services to illegal immigrants.

Wilson responded that Proposition 187 of 1994 was a cry from taxpayers who felt overwhelmed by cost and safety issues tied to the immigrants in the country illegally. He said 20 percent of the state’s prisoners at the time were illegal immigrants and a 18-fold increase in health care costs and education cost increases were the result of the immigration. That’s what inspired Prop 187, he said. He blamed “two capitols”: Washington D.C. and Mexico City for ignoring responsibility for the border.

He did not blame the immigrants, however. Wilson said, “People below the border did what I would have done in their shoes.”