Speaking at a debate on jobs and the economy Monday night, the five leading candidates for L.A. mayor promised to eliminate the gross receipts tax on business, streamline the city’s cumbersome permitting process and focus on creating green jobs if elected.

But the candidates withheld full support to major infrastructure projects backed by the business community, including plans to move the north runway at Los Angeles International Airport and proposals for new rail lines at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. And they refused to promise to oppose extending the city’s living wage mandate to hotels and other industries.

The debate, co-sponsored by the Central City Association, the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, the Valley Industry and Commerce Association and the Coalition for the Economy & Jobs, was held at UCLA's Royce Hall. The five leading candidates in terms of fundraising and polling were invited: City Councilmembers Eric Garcetti and Jan Perry, City Controller and former City Councilmember Wendy Greuel, former U.S. Attorney and radio talk show host Kevin James and technology executive Emanuel Pleitez. Several hundred people – mostly supporters of the candidates, were in the audience; most of the debate was televised live.

The candidates were asked what two things they would do to bring down the city’s 11.3 percent unemployment rate. Greuel, James and Pleitez said they would eliminate the gross receipts tax on business.

“The gross receipts tax takes money off the top,” James said. “There are two groups that get away with that: the city of Los Angeles and the Mafia.”

Garcetti said he would make it easier for businesses to get started in the city. “You shouldn’t have to hire a lobbyist to open a business,” he said.

Perry said she would focus on major development projects throughout the city, much as she has with L.A Live and major projects in downtown. But the South Los Angeles councilwoman also said she would insist on project labor agreements, a key union demand.

The candidates tread more cautiously in discussing two major infrastructure projects: moving the north runway at LAX to improve safety and accommodate larger planes, and building new rail lines at the ports to speed the movement of goods off the docks. In each case, the candidates cited concerns from neighbors.

“I support moving the runway, but I’m looking for a compromise with the neighbors over whether to move it the full 260 feet,” Greuel said.

The reluctance to come out clearly in support of the airport’s plan to move the north runway at least 260 feet was disappointing to panelist and City National Bank Chief Executive Russell Goldsmith, who also chairs the Coalition for Jobs and the Economy.

“We’ve had six studies on this and it’s taken more than a decade,” Goldsmith said. “It’s time to move forward with this now. I was looking for some sort of commitment from the candidates on this and none of them were willing to step up and make that commitment.”

The candidates also refused to oppose extending the city’s living wage mandate, another union-backed cause. Business groups say the mandate represents an intrusion into the right of business owners to set their own wages and benefits.

“None of the hotels on the Century Corridor have gone out of business since we extended the living wage there,” Garcetti said.

Carol Schatz, chief executive of the Central City Association and another debate panelist, said she was disappointed that none of the candidates would commit to opposing the living wage mandate. “They are all reluctant to take on the unions on this point,” she said.