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Michael Aron Discusses Christie’s Trip to Canada, Bridgegate Update, Moody’s Pension Warning

12-4-14

On the political scene tonight, an update on the Bridgegate investigation, a warning from Moody’s Financial Services about pension funds in the state and Gov. Chris Christie — he’s in Canada. NJTV News Chief Political Correspondent Michael Aron discussed it all with Correspondent Michael Hill.

The administration says Christie is on an official visit to Canada. Aron said it’s a two-day trade mission to the country. Today, day one, the governor gave a speech at the Calgary Chamber of Commerce where he reiterated his strong support for building the Keystone pipeline.

“This is not about sending your oil across our land. It’s about maximizing the benefits of North America’s natural resources for everybody, about allowing markets to function and about contributing to the prosperity of citizens both in the United States and in Canada,” Christie said.

Aron said Christie has been avoiding taking positions on national issues like immigration, but he’s quick to embrace the Keystone pipeline, partly because it’s solidly supported by the Republican Party. Also it’s a chance to contrast himself with President Obama who keeps expressing great misgivings about building the pipeline.

As for Bridgegate, the committee hasn’t received an expected report yet. Aron said he’s been told an interim report is 140 pages long and the committee will hold a hearing on Monday and make the report public then. He said 12 committee members were supposed to receive the report this afternoon, but hadn’t as of 6 p.m. The Office of Legislative Services (OLS) is expected to get it to them tonight.

Moody’s issued a warning about the state’s pension system, saying it could run out in 10 years. Aron called the report alarmist, but said it’s really just a change in accounting standards.

“The unfunded pension liability of the two largest funds — teachers and state workers — went from $37 billion to $83 billion overnight but it’s because the federal government has these new standards that require the states to assume investment growth of 4.2 percent instead of the 7.9 percent that New Jersey has traditionally assumed. So there’s no material damage to the pension system,” Aron said.

Aron said although there’s not a material difference, it doesn’t mean the state doesn’t have a serious problem with the pension system. A report from Christie’s task force on the issue is expected by the end of December. He expects it to recommend changing the way that state workers’ pensions are calculated, using the average of their lifespan in state service, not just the final years of state service salary.