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Is it Time to Make Changes at RSA?

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

Investing money can be difficult. Investors need to diligently research individual stocks, bonds, stock mutual funds, bond mutual funds, commodity funds, managed money accounts, exchange traded funds (ETFs), real estate investment trusts (REITs), hedge funds, etc. before making decisions about what to buy more of and what to sell and when. Opinions often vary wildly on how to pick investment vehicles but there is one principle that virtually all professional investors agree on and that is periodically you have to review investment performance. In December Morningstar released a report on state pension funds showing what most of us already knew. The Retirement Systems of Alabama (RSA) has underperformed at managing assets over the last decade.

According to Morning Star, in 2007 the RSA had total assets of $30.7 billion and pension liabilities of $38.7 billion. In 2008 assets climbed to almost $31 billion, but liabilities for state pensions climbed to $40.2 billion. In 2009 RSA’s assets dropped to $30.8 billion and liabilities climbed to $41.6 billion. In 2010 assets dropped to $30.1 billion but liabilities increased to $42.9 billion. Recognizing the problem, the state legislature increased the employees’ contributions to their own retirements (effectively lowering their take home pay.) Despite this reform, in 2011 RSA assets dropped to $29.1 billion while liabilities increased to $43.5 billion. The spread between assets and liabilities has grown from $8 billion in 2007 to $14.4 billion in 2011. In investing, facts are quantifiable. You either made money or you didn’t. Your mutual fund outperformed other mutual funds or it didn’t. According to independent analysis the RSA is one of the worst performing state pension funds in the country. The RSA is managed by Dr. David Bronner who has headed the fund since 1973. His previous employment was as a law professor at the University of Alabama.

‘The Alabama Political Reporter’ talked with state Representative Jim McClendon (R) from Springville about the situation on Thursday. McClendon said that you needed to look at the big picture McClendon said that you can’t compare current rates of returns versus their past rates of return. You have to compare the returns against the returns versus other pension funds in recent years the board has underperformed versus other pension funds. “This tells me that they could use financial advisers who have actual experience at managing money and a proven track record of success at managing money over time.” McClendon said that the poor performance is an indicator that the board is composed of people who do not understand or have experience in successfully managing money.

Alabama Education Association Executive Secretary Henry Mabry wrote in Monday’s ‘Alabama School Journal’, “TRS has a serious problem that needs to be addressed. In the last five years, the state and TRS (Teacher’s Retirement Systems – one of three pension plans run by RSA) members contributed $5.4 billion and benefits paid out were $8.1 billion. Investment income should have made up the difference but it did not. TRS actually lost $21.5 million in investment income instead of making up the $2.7 billion shortfall between contributions coming in and benefits going out. Last year, for instance, the state and employees contributed almost $1.1 billion, but costs were $1.9 billion. TRS assets are $2.6 billion lower than just over five years ago, or 12 percent down. This means benefits have been paid with savings for the future. Investments must improve or our members’ retirements are in jeopardy or out-of-pocket and state increases will rise, or both.”

Alabama State Senator Cam Ward (R) from Alabaster agreed in comments on Facebook on Thursday, “For several years in a row I have spoken with educators regarding my concern with the return on state pensions and how it was harming the state Education Trust Fund Budget. I caught a lot of heat for my comments. I have been concerned that the poor return which has led to the legislature having to spend more and more money to shore up the pension plan, could have been used instead to fund classrooms with supplies and other materials. I am glad to see the education community agree with me on that assessment in this article. For every dollar that RSA asks from the legislature to shore up sagging pension returns, is a dollar less for copy paper, school supplies and teaching materials.”

Rep. McClendon said, “We do know that Bronner dominates that board.” “The logical thing is to alter the composition of that board.” “AEA has reversed their position on RSA. I told them three years ago that changes need to be made.” McClendon said that the board needs to be composed of people with the appropriate knowledge to understand how to invest the money that the state and the state employees are giving them and who have a track record of successfully managing money. McClendon said however that to his knowledge nobody is introducing legislation to reform RSA in this session.

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Mabry wrote, “The facts point to losses caused by alternative investments such as real estate. Over the past five years, almost $700 million has gone down a rat hole thanks to these “investments.” To put it in perspective, $700 million is more than twice what is spent on school transportation for the whole state or over 12,000 teacher units for a year. Economic development of the state is great and wonderful, but economic development at the expense of active and retired TRS members does not pass muster. It is their money and not to be used for someone’s monopoly game.”

Rep. Kurt Wallace (R) from Maplesville said on Facebook, “Since I have been elected I have had to take numerous beatings from AEA. Mostly because we (the legislature) said their TRS investments were one of the worst in the nation (based on several independent audits). They called us liars and thieves. As we were shelling out hundreds of millions of tax payer dollars to prop up their retirement system, they were constantly trashing us. Now, hear it from the ring leader Henry Mabry himself. I love my teachers and it’s good to finally here their leader say exactly what we’ve been saying all along. Now…maybe we can work together to fix a broken system.”

Sen. Ward said in December, “The solution I would offer is to restrict the investments of the RSA Board. Right now they invest a great deal in golf courses, hotels, airlines and other ventures that are very risky but in the name of promoting local tourism. The role of all pension managers around the country is to make sure the pension plan is solvent and has good returns for their retirees, not promoting tourism. Alabama has a Tourism Director so we don’t need the RSA Board doing that job as well. Their job is to invest in areas that will make a return for their retirees.”

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Mabry wrote, “TRS is requesting almost $100 million more for next year. And next year they will be requesting another $100 million on top of that amount for the following year and the year after that will be no different. We have no choice but to get such amounts funded. If investment returns had not been so abysmal, then these multiple $100 million infusions of cash into the Retirement Systems could by providing much needed funding for textbooks, supplies, technology, professional development, PEEHIP cost increases, or additional pay every year.”

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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Economy

Alabama unemployment rate drops more than 2 points to 5.6 percent

Micah Danney

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(STOCK PHOTO)

The state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate decreased to 5.6 percent in August, down from 7.9 percent in July, according to the Alabama Department of Labor. 

The figure represents 127,186 unemployed people, compared to 176,556 in July. It compares to an August 2019 rate of 2.8 percent, or 62,149 unemployed people.

“August showed a larger drop in the unemployment rate than we’ve seen for a few months,” said Alabama Labor Secretary Fitzgerald Washington. “We are continuing to see our initial claims drop, staying under 10,000 for the past several weeks. We regained another 22,200 jobs this month but are still down more than 86,000 from this time last year.”

Washington said that the number of people who are working or actively looking for work is at its highest level ever, which he described as a sign that people are confident that there are jobs to be found. 

Gov. Kay Ivey said the numbers are good news for Alabama. 

“We have worked extremely hard to open Alabama’s businesses safely, and to put our hard-working families back to work,” Ivey said in a statement. “We know that challenges remain, and we will endeavor to meet them so that we can get back to our previous, pre-pandemic record-setting employment numbers.”

All the state’s counties and metro areas experienced a decrease in unemployment rates from July to August. The most gains were seen in the government sector, the professional and business services sector and the trade, transportation and utilities sector.

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Counties with the lowest unemployment rates were:

  • Clay County – 3.4 percent
  • Randolph, Franklin, Marshall, Cullman, Cleburne and Cherokee Counties – 3.6 percent
  • Blount County – 3.7 percent

Counties with the highest unemployment rates were:

  • Wilcox County – 14.8 percent
  • Lowndes County – 13.8 percent
  • Greene County – 10.9 percent

Major cities with the lowest unemployment rates are:

  • Vestavia Hills – 3 percent
  • Homewood  – 3.2 percent
  • Madison – 3.3 percent

Major cities with the highest unemployment rates are:

  • Prichard – 15.4 percent
  • Selma – 12.9 percent
  • Bessemer – 10.7 percent

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Corruption

Former State Sen. David Burkette pleads guilty, avoids jail

Josh Moon

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Former Alabama Sen. David Burkette

Former State Sen. David Burkette will avoid jail time and be sentenced to a 30-day suspended sentence as part of a plea deal reached on Monday. 

Burkette, who pleaded guilty to one count of violating the Fair Campaign Practices Act, will also have to pay a $3,000 fine and serve 12 months of probation as part of the deal. He was sentenced in Montgomery Circuit Court on Monday after being charged two weeks ago with failing to deposit more than $3,600 in contributions into campaign accounts — a misdemeanor.

He also resigned his seat in the Alabama Senate as part of the plea deal. 

“I’m just happy to still be here,” Burkette told the court following his sentencing, according to multiple media reports. 

The former senator suffered a stroke in 2018 and has been confined to a wheelchair since. His current health status played a role in his sentence considerations. 

The charges against Burkette stem from a series of complaints filed against him with the Alabama Ethics Commission — all of them related to various issues during his time on the Montgomery City Council. The charge for which he pleaded guilty occurred in 2015.

The Ethics Commission referred numerous charges to the Alabama attorney general’s office, according to sources familiar with the investigation of Burkette, but the attorney general’s office elected to charge Burkette with only the misdemeanor as part of the deal that saw him resign. 

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“Candidates for public office at the state, county and municipal levels must comply with the State’s Fair Campaign Practices Act,” said Attorney General Steve Marshall. “Personally profiting from campaign funds erodes public confidence in the system and will not be tolerated.”

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National

Governor surveys damage from Hurricane Sally

Brandon Moseley

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Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey held press conferences in Gulf Shores and Dauphin Island after touring the storm damaged Alabama Gulf Coast, which was battered by Hurricane Sally last week.

Three Alabama counties have been approved for individual and public assistance from FEMA. Baldwin, Mobile and Escambia counties were approved for both IA and PA.

“When I was on the coast Friday, it was clear that there has been significant damage, and people are in need of relief,” Ivey said in a statement. “My Office has been working on putting in the request for individual and public assistance to help bring the needed aid, and I appreciate FEMA for quickly delivering to the people of Alabama. Being approved for individual and public assistance is an important step in the recovery process. Coastal Alabama, we are with you the whole way!”

Gov. Kay Ivey took a tour of the damage from Hurricane Sally on the gulf coast Friday September 18, 2020. (Governor’s Office/Hal Yeager)

FEMA Administrator Pete Gaynor, U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne and Sen. Doug Jones also toured the damaged areas.

“I appreciate FEMA Administrator Pete Gaynor for quickly getting down to Alabama to check out the damage from #Sally,” Byrne said. ”President Trump has already approved Alabama’s request for Public Assistance and Individual Assistance, so I encourage everyone to register for help from FEMA online at DisasterAssistance.gov or by calling the registration phone number at 1-800-621-3362. Residents of Baldwin, Escambia, and Mobile counties are currently eligible.”

“President Trump and his team have been outstanding to work with in making sure Alabama gets the help we need and deserve,” Byrne continued.

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Ivey toured the area by helicopter to survey the damage.

Gov. Kay Ivey took a tour of the damage from Hurricane Sally on the gulf coast Friday September 18, 2020. (Governor’s Office/Hal Yeager)

 

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“I’m sure it could be worse, but from what I’ve seen this morning in the flyover it is really, really bad,” Ivey said.

Over 200,000 people lost electric power due to Hurricane Sally. Alabama Power said Sunday that more than 99 percent of those people have had their power restored.

“Our electric companies are making progress every hour to restore power,” Byrne said. “A lot more work remains, but know that crews are working hard to get all the power back online. Hurricane Sally caused major damage to our electric infrastructure, and I appreciate all those working to get our lights turned back on.”


Gov. Kay Ivey took a tour of the damage from Hurricane Sally on the gulf coast Friday September 18, 2020. (Governor’s Office/Hal Yeager)

Alabama Power said that it may take into early this week to restore power to some portions of downtown Mobile, Bayou La Batre and Dauphin Island.

“With the Major Disaster Declaration, individuals may apply for disaster aid from FEMA,” Byrne explained.

You can apply online at disasterassistance.gov or by calling the registration phone number at 1-800-621-3362 (TTY: 800-462-7585).

Even though electric power has been restored, many homes have been severely damaged. Some are a total loss. Most homeowners are still waiting on insurance adjusters to complete their work. There was a lot of roof damage, not just in Gulf Shores, Dauphin Island, Fort Morgan and Orange Beach, but also in Foley, Robertsdale, Loxley, Bayou La Batre, Bay Minette and beyond — both from the winds and from the trees that fell.

Some homes near the coast were impacted by the storm surge, but many more well into Baldwin County as well as in Pensacola, Florida, were impacted by flooding. Many people are still in need of supplies for the cleanup as well as daily essentials.

“There are a number of food, water and supply distribution sites across Baldwin County,” Byrne said. “According to Baldwin County Emergency Management Agency, these locations have MREs, tarps, bottled water, ice, and other supplies.”

  • Baldwin County Coliseum (Robertsdale)
    19477 Fairground Road Robertsdale, AL
  • Seminole Fire Department
    32268 Highway 90 Seminole, AL
  • Lillian Community Club
    34148 Widell Avenue; Lillian, AL
  • Lana Park (Fairhope)
    523 Volanta Avenue; Fairhope, AL
  • Foley Soccer Complex
    18507 US Highway 98; Foley, AL
  • Orange Beach Community Center
    27235 Canal Road; Orange Beach, AL
  • Gulf Shores SportsPlex
    19025 Oak Road W; Gulf Shores, AL

On Saturday, literally hundreds of cars lined up to pick up supplies from the Robertstale Church of God in Robertsdale.

Hurricane Sally made landfall near Gulf Shores before dawn on Wednesday as a category two storm. Forecasters on Saturday had expected the storm to impact Louisiana but the hurricane turned to the northeast and made landfall in Alabama instead, gaining strength before coming ashore.

“No one expected this storm to be that strong,” Ivey said.

Ivey said most of the piers have been destroyed. Alabama’s State Fishing Pier had just finished a $2.5 million renovation. Now a large portion of the pier is missing. Most of the Gulf State Park campground went underwater. A few campers actually weathered the hurricane in their campers.

Debris removal is ongoing.

The Mobile County Commission announced that it will manage Hurricane Sally debris removal from all areas of Mobile County, located outside the 10 municipalities, except for the Town of Dauphin Island. Dauphin Island will be the only municipality to receive hurricane debris removal managed by the county.

To ensure pick-up removal, residents are asked to adhere to the following guidelines: Only Hurricane Sally-related vegetative and construction and demolition (C&D) debris will be collected. That excludes removal of normal household trash, appliances, electronics and household hazardous waste. Debris must be placed curbside or in right-of-way areas that do not block roadways or storm drains. Do not place material in drainage ditches. Vegetative debris should be piled separately from C&D debris material. Vegetative debris includes tree branches, limbs and non-bagged leaves. C&D debris includes building materials, fencing and bagged materials.

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Corruption

Mike Hubbard’s attorney asks court to reconsider prison sentence

Eddie Burkhalter

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Mike Hubbard reported to the Lee County Jail on Sept. 11, 2020. (VIA LEE COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE)

One week after he began serving his prison sentence, the attorney for former Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard has asked the court to reconsider his four-year sentence.

Hubbard, 57, began serving his sentence on Sept. 11 after being free on an appeals bond for four years. He was ultimately convicted on six felony charges of using his office for personal gain.

“Mike Hubbard is not a danger to society, nor a threat to the public and a revised sentence will better serve the State’s interest in rehabilitation and the ends of justice,” Hubbard’s Birmingham attorney, David McKnight, wrote to the Lee County Circuit Court on Friday.

Hubbard had originally been convicted by a Lee County jury on 12 ethics violations, and the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals upheld 11 of those convictions, but the Alabama Supreme Court later reversed five of those convictions and upheld six.

McKnight, in his motion to the court, argues that due process compels the court to reconsider Hubbard’s sentence, and that his removal from office, loss of the right to vote and “divestment of business interests” have already punished the former House speaker.

The state’s attorney general at the time of his conviction determined that Hubbard had bilked Alabama out of more than $2 million.

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