May 27--TRENTON -- Gov. Chris Christie says he's "moving on" from the George Washington Bridge scandal. Not so fast, say bond investors.
In new research Moody's Investors Service says "high-profile governance issues" have weakened the ability of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to raise tolls in the near future, which in turn could hurt financial performance in the event the economy slows down and traffic levels -- which have dropped seven consecutive years since a 2007 peak -- decline further.
The report cites the politically motivated closing of lanes at the authority-operated bridge in 2013 -- which so far have led to three indictments of people from Christie's inner circle -- as one of the issues adding risk to the authority's ability to fund its capital plan.
The Port Authority's credit rating for consolidated bonds is Aa3/stable, fourth- highest on the scale set by Moody's, a major credit-rating agency.
Authority spokesman Steve Coleman said Tuesday, "It's important to note that Moody's high credit rating given to the Port Authority has not changed."
But Moody's also dinged the authority on a pending lawsuit by the American Automobile Association challenging the use of toll revenue to finance construction at the World Trade Center.
It noted, too, that subpoenas have been issued by the Manhattan District Attorney's office and the Securities and Exchange Commission over the use of authority funds for the Pulaski Skyway project.
"Even if the authority prevails on all matters, we believe that the political environment would make further toll rate increases more challenging in the near term," the report said.
Christie said earlier this month he's moving on from the bridge scandal, which has compromised his presidential prospects, and is done apologizing for the actions of his former aides.
Christie doubled-down last week and said media coverage of the GWB lane-closure scandal was "completely absurd" compared with stories on controversies related to Hillary Clinton and suggested he is owed an apology.
Bob Jordan 609-984-4343, bjordan@GannettNJ.com
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