Whether Democrats or Republicans are in control in Trenton, nothing much changes, independent candidate for governor Chris Daggett argued last night at Rider University.

Daggett made the case that an independent candidate - someone not beholden to political parties or special interests - is in the best position to take on the problems plaguing New Jersey.

In Trenton now, Daggett said, "The main focus is on party ideology, special interests, and the next election."

The event kicked off a "Governing New Jersey" series sponsored by the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University. Republican gubernatorial candidate Christopher J. Christie is scheduled to speak at 4 p.m. today; Gov. Corzine is scheduled to speak at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

Daggett, 57, of Bernards Township, told an audience of about 120, most of them students, that he was disappointed in the tone and lack of substance in both the Corzine and Christie campaigns so far. Both have spent too much time slinging mud and focusing on things that voters care little about, such as personal loans and driving records, he said.

On the issue of the state budget, the former environmental administrator said New Jersey faced a deficit of at least $4 billion next year. While the other candidates have talked about cutting the size of state government to save money, Daggett said, the state would need to lay off 80,000 state employees to fill the gap - more employees than the state has.

He said he planned to unveil a more detailed budget proposal in coming weeks but hinted that it would include renegotiating contracts with state workers.

Daggett also focused on education and the environment. He is calling for more accountability in kindergarten through 12th grade, and he supports charter schools.

He also wants to see New Jersey invest more dollars in higher education and promote collaboration between universities and industry to create jobs and keep college graduates in New Jersey.

On the environment, Daggett - who works in environmental remediation and previously served as a regional EPA administrator and headed the Department of Environmental Protection under Gov. Tom Kean - said he would push for a permanent source of funding for open space and for greater efficiency in processing permits at DEP.

Daggett is significantly behind Christie and Corzine, typically polling in the single digits, although a poll released yesterday by Public Policy Polling of Raleigh, N.C., found 13 percent of likely voters planned to vote for Daggett. The poll's margin of error was 4.5 percentage points. Christie leads Corzine in most polls among likely voters, though Corzine appears to be narrowing the gap and holds a considerable financial advantage over the other two candidates.

Christie and Daggett each hope to raise $3.6 million, which would earn them twice that in matching funds. Daggett was the first independent candidate in the state to qualify for taxpayer matching funds in time for the state-sanctioned debates, scheduled for Oct. 1 and Oct. 16.

Daggett said he feels his main challenge is raising enough money to get his message out. He is confident that if he can get his message out, he can win.

"I'm not looking at who I can take votes from. I'm looking at what votes I can earn," Daggett said. "I think it's about time people vote for somebody rather than against somebody."