The first minister has strongly attacked SNP plans to replace the council tax with a local income tax.
The two leaders are at odds over council tax
Jack McConnell claimed the move would slash investment in education and threaten thousands of teaching jobs.
He said that under SNP proposals local income tax would be capped at 3p in the pound - far short of what was needed to maintain spending levels.
SNP leader Alex Salmond accused Labour of "negative campaigning" and "empty attacks" in the run up to the election.
Speaking in Glasgow, flanked by Justice Minister Cathy Jamieson and Education Minister Hugh Henry, Mr McConnell said the SNP's tax plans would create a £1.1bn black hole in council services.
"The choice facing the people of Scotland on 3 May is apparent again - the choice is between education and separation, and only Labour will create the best education system in the world," he said.
Mr McConnell added that it would be a tax on jobs and a blight on hard-working families.
He said that if Labour gained more MSPs at the elections in May he would strive to exclude a local income tax from any coalition deal.
He said a 3p limit on income tax would threaten 4,782 teaching jobs and cut investment in education by £366 per primary pupil and £516 per secondary pupil.
Labour argues that the level of income tax needed to pay for existing services has been independently calculated at 6.5%.
Meanwhile, the SNP also announced a New Year campaign which will culminate in a nationwide "day of action" in January.
Launching the new drive in Edinburgh, Mr Salmond accused Labour of negative campaigning.
"After almost 10 years in government, surely the people of Scotland deserve more from the Labour party than yet more empty attacks on the SNP?" he said.
"They can't be positive because there is too little in their record that inspires confidence and too little in their plans that offers hope.
"The SNP is working hard to give the Scottish people the choice of fresh thinking and progress that contrasts sharply with a Labour campaign that so far has been little more than empty scaremongering."
Mr Salmond said his party will speak directly to 600,000 Scots over the next four months.