The match-up to replace New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is set with Democrat Phil Murphy and Republican Kim Guadagno winning primary battles Tuesday.
Murphy, a former Goldman Sachs executive, and Guadagno, New Jersey’s lieutenant governor under Christie since his 2009 election, will square off on Nov. 7 for the right to replace the term-limited Republican governor. The new governor will inherit a state facing serious fiscal challenges due largely to a high pension burden.
The Garden State has incurred 11 rating downgrades since Christie took office in January 2010. New Jersey debt is rated A3 by Moody’s Investors Service, A-minus by S&P Global Ratings, and A by Fitch Ratings and Kroll Bond Rating Agency. Only Illinois has a worse rating among the 50 states.
Guadagno did not reference New Jersey’s pension challenges in a primary victory speech Tuesday, but her campaign website says she wants the Pension and Health Benefit Study Commission appointed by Christie in 2015 to work as a starting point toward resolving the state’s liability challenges. The commission recommended freezing existing pension plans and shifting workers to cash balanced defined benefit plans. She also supports a proposal to allow police and fighters to manage their own pension system.
Murphy’s campaign website emphasizes the importance of boosting pension funding. He has also called on the state to divest from private equity and hedge funds to help increase investment returns.
“We will put New Jersey on a path to making our full pension payments,” said Murphy in his acceptance speech.
Murphy supports a new bill to legalize recreational marijuana, which could bring in $300 million in annual state revenue, according to a 2016 study. Guadagno has not indicated if she supports marijuana legalization, but mentioned in a May primary debate that the effort would face obstacles at the federal level.
Prior to getting elected lieutenant governor in November 2009, Guadagno had an extensive legal career that included a stint as assistant U.S. attorney in Newark. She also was elected as Monmouth County sheriff in 2007.
Murphy spent 23 years at Goldman Sachs rising to the senior director position before leaving in 2006. He was later appointed by President Obama to serve as U.S. Ambassador to Germany from 2009 to 2013.