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In last budget address, New Jersey Governor Christie targets pensions, school funding

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New Jersey Governor Chris Christie laid out plans to spend more money on public pensions and roads and reiterated calls to transform the state’s school funding formula in his final budget address as leader of the state on Tuesday.

The Republican, once a White House hopeful, said his $36.2 billion budget proposal for fiscal 2018 included a $2.5 billion contribution to the state’s retirement system for public employees, up $647 million from last year’s contribution.

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He said he wants to spend an extra $400 million this fiscal year to fix roads and deficient bridges. In October he signed into law a gasoline tax hike of 23 cents a gallon, New Jersey’s first increase since 1988, in exchange for reducing other taxes. This latest budget proposal does not call for any new tax increases.

Christie said he wanted to work with lawmakers to overhaul the state’s education funding formula within 100 days, before primary elections in June, though he did not make any changes to the formula in his proposed budget.

His first such proposal in June 2016 to send a flat rate of $6,599 per student to all public school districts has fallen flat in the Democrat-led legislature.

Christie is in his eighth and final year as governor. His presidential aspirations and approval rating at home crumbled in the wake of the Bridgegate scandal involving his former top aides.

Credit rating agencies have downgraded New Jersey 10 times since Christie took office in 2010, in part because of state pension liabilities.

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Even so, Christie touted property tax aid, job growth and lower discretionary spending by his administration in his address to lawmakers, as well as an unemployment rate that has fallen to 4.7 percent from 9.8 percent in 2010.

His fiscal 2018 budget anticipates a 2.6 percent increase in spending and a 3.6 percent increase in revenues. Christie said he has lowered the amount of one-time budget revenues to 2 percent from 13.2 percent in 2009.

He proposed using state lottery revenues to shore up the pension system, saying this could boost the system’s funded ratio to 64 percent from 49 percent and cut unfunded liability by about $13 billion. The shortfall is currently about $136 billion, according to S&P Global.

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“While the need for real and sustainable long-term reform cannot be understated, addressing the continued compounding of our pension crisis requires a substantial increase in State contributions,” Christie said.

(Reporting by Elinor Comlay in Trenton; Writing by Hilary Russ in New York; Editing by Daniel Bases and David Gregorio)

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Trump impeachment trial: 4 stories from first day spell doom for Mitch McConnell

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If the score was kept for the first day of the impeachment trial, it would show hefty losses for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

As Former Special Counsel for the Department of Defense, Ryan Goodman, pointed out, four major headlines perfectly reflect the cracks in the strangle-hold McConnell has had on his party.

First, McConnell was forced to change the impeachment hearing rules. After a huge uprising by Americans demanding to be able to watch the impeachment trial during normal human hours, senators told McConnell he'd lost the votes to hold proceedings after midnight.

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‘Disease fanboy’: Internet slams NBC conservative for ‘rooting for pandemic’ to distract from Trump impeachment trial

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Hugh Hewitt is once again under fire, this time for almost appearing to be glad a deadly SARS-related virus has been diagnosed in a patient in Washington state – saying additional diagnoses will take the focus away from the Senate's historic impeachment trial. Hewitt is a conservative Washington Post columnist, radio host, MSNBC and NBC contributor, and law professor who went from being a "Never-Trumper" to all-in for President Donald Trump.

"People care much more for their health than theater," said Hewitt via Twitter, referring to Trump's impeachment trial. The SARS-related virus, known as the Wuhan coronavirus, is named for an area of China where it was first found. It "has infected more than 300 people and killed six in an outbreak that has struck China, Thailand, South Korea, Japan and now the US," CNN reports.

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Greece elects first woman president

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Greece's parliament on Wednesday elected the first woman president in the country's history, a senior judge with an expertise in environmental and constitutional law.

A cross-party majority of 261 MPs voted in favour of 63-year-old Ekaterini Sakellaropoulou, parliament chief Costas Tassoulas said.

"Ekaterini Sakellaropoulou has been elected president of the republic," Tassoulas said.

The new president, until now the head of Greece's top administrative court, the Council of State, will take her oath of office on March 13, he added.

The daughter of a Supreme Court judge, Sakellaropoulou completed postgraduate studies at Paris's Sorbonne university.

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