Republican gubernatorial candidate Christopher J. Christie would pull out his veto pen, create an independent state auditor, and take on the Legislature to pare state spending.

His opponent in the June 2 primary, Steve Lonegan, would implement a flat income tax to stop the exodus of rich people from New Jersey and possibly entice some to return.

The current income-tax rate ranges from 1.4 percent to 8.9 percent, depending on earnings. The former Bogota mayor said he would cut it to 2.9 percent for everyone and eventually to 1.5 percent.

In separate Statehouse news conferences yesterday, Lonegan talked economics while Christie outlined changes to the structure of state spending.

As he waited for a constitutional amendment to create an elected auditor, Christie said, he would appoint a special prosecutor with subpoena power to root out wasteful spending. He or she could sue contractors who overcharged the government.

The former U.S. attorney argued that having several agencies, such as the comptroller's office and the Commission of Investigation, look into allegations of spending abuses does not result in a thorough probe. They should be abolished and replaced by an auditor, he said.

Christie offered few specifics regarding budget cuts. He and advisers would identify the most important state services and fund them appropriately, he said. Some programs would fall by the wayside.

New or increased taxes and fees would require a two-thirds vote by the Legislature, Christie said. New or expanded programs would come with a four-year sunset provision, allowing the government to assess their effectiveness before letting them live on.

Christie said he would cut patronage and stop union workers from getting benefit enhancements from the Legislature instead of through collective bargaining.

By using the governor's veto power over the budget and restricting legislative control over spending, Christie could set himself up for a scuffle.

He said his preference would be to get along with legislators. But he added, "If I can't get it through cooperation, I will do it through confrontation."

Gov. Corzine and the Legislature have implemented changes in the budget process, including appointing a comptroller to study the use of state money, ending earmarks for legislators' pet projects, and allowing citizens to vote on state bond issues.

Christie called the governor's recent call for state workers to take a two-day unpaid furlough a "one-shot gimmick." And while Corzine's campaign promise to have an elected comptroller was good, Corzine "didn't have the will to stand up and make it happen," Christie said.

Reached for comment yesterday, a Corzine spokesman referred reporters to a recent statement in which the governor said he was busy fighting the recession and would respond to the Republicans after they settled on a candidate.

Lonegan has said he would cut state spending by 20 percent and slash state aid to poor school districts. He noted again yesterday that some of that already was taking place because of insufficient tax revenue.

Reduced state spending coupled with lower taxes would buck up the state's economy, he argued, adding that "a rising tide lifts all boats."

Also running in the GOP primary are Assemblyman Rick Merkt of Morris County and Brian Levine, mayor of Franklin Township, Somerset County.

Contact staff writer Cynthia Burton at 856-779-3858 or cburton@phillynews.com.