By Lee Hedgepeth
Alabama Political Reporter
The fight for control over investments of the Employees’ Retirement Systems and the Teachers’ Retirement Systems in Alabama has not yet reached its end.
On December 16th, the Alabama Political Reporter reported on events leading up to an identical bill being prefiled on the House side in preparation for the 2014 Alabama legislative session by Democrat Johnny “Mack” Morrow of Red Bay. Curtis Stewart, a recent Robert Bentley appointment to the ERS board, announced a resolution that would prevent Dr. David Bronner, Chief Executive Officer of the Retirement Systems of America and Secretary-Treasurer of ERS, from using proxy votes of other investment committee members to take immediate action on day-to-day investment decisions.
The resolution passed, and the controversy began. Dr. Bronner, who had claimed Bentley was bringing “politics” into nonpartisan pension fund investment decisions even before the Stewart resolution, decried the Governor for improperly influencing the investment decision process by using his appointment power to force this outcome.
Governor Bentley claimed that he had not known about the new rule until it passed, but he (not for the first time) went on record as saying that allowing one individual power to make such crucial decisions “dangerous.”
Bronner, who has had proxy discretion over investments for about four decades, has long held that such decisions — including, as he says, whether or not to purchase stock at moment’s notice. He recently fired back at Bentley’s comments about his sole discretion being dangerous in a widely circulated opinion article titled “DANGER! DANGER! RSA is investing in Alabama!”
“I have been called many things in the past 40 years of serving Alabamians as the head of the Retirement Systems of Alabama,” he began. “Call me liberal or conservative, arrogant or brilliant, but dangerous? Really, Gov. Bentley? Dangerous?”
He then went on to elaborate on RSA investments in the state, including sections headed “golf,” “hospitality,” and “real estate.”
Finally, Bronner spent a few lines criticizing Bentley on his failure to expand medicaid for low-income families in Alabama:
“Politics is taking precedence over the poor and that is not acceptable. The 300,000 women and children in Alabama that would benefit from Medicaid expansion need for us to do the right thing. We need the billions of dollars and tens of thousands of jobs that would come with Medicaid expansion. We don’t need political games taking the priority over helping Alabamians in need.”
Many thought that the sparring would end on the opinion pages, but the fight is now in both houses of the legislature. With the 2014 Alabama legislative session beginning on January 14th, bills are now filed in the house and senate in what seems to be a serious effort to give Bronner back what the Democrat who prefiled the house bill called “total unilateral control.”
Senator Roger Bedford of Russellville, who has served as a Democrat nearly continuously since the 1980s, has now filed the identical bill in the upper chamber. The description of the bill is as follows:
“Retirement Systems of Alabama, secretary-treasurer, investment decision authorized without approval of Board of Control, Employees’ Retirement System, Teachers’ Retirement System, Secs. 16-25-20, 36-27-25 am’d.”
According to his Senate biography, “Senator Bedford is an attorney, a conservative Democrat, a Baptist, a Rotarian, and belongs to the Alabama Bar Association, the Cattlemen’s Association, the NRA, Ducks Unlimited, American Cancer Society, Executive member of the Boy Scouts of America, and the Tennessee Valley Council.”
The ERS board oversees the retirement pension fund for all public employees in the state of Alabama.