By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY— During a recent interview with RSA Chairman Dr. David Bronner, he seemed assured that the Legislature wouldn’t push for any change to the current State Pension System during the 2016 Legislative Session. However, he expressed concerns about State workers’ heath insurance: “They said they are not going to do anything to affect the current member on their pension side… but they haven’t said anything on the healthcare side,” Bronner said. “So we’ll be keeping an eye close on that one.”
State employees have seen a steady rise in health insurance costs, as well as higher co-pays for prescription drugs.
“Five or six years ago, I said the cost of health insurance is greater than the pension side,” said Bronner. “There’s been a lot of misinformation about the pension side, because the pension side cost is actually lower than what it was a few years ago because of higher contribution for the employee.” He says there is more disinformation coming from billionaire-funded think tanks that want to transform State pension plans. Last year, the Pew Public Sector Retirement Systems Project met with the Joint Committee On Alabama Public Pensions, established during the 2015 Session. The thrust of the meeting was to reform the RSA system, the State of Kentucky has been used as an example of the reforms Pew has proposed. In 2013, the Kentucky General Assembly with the assistance of The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, passed comprehensive legislation, “to improve the fiscal health of the pension system by billions of dollars, ensuring that state and local governments can keep their promises to Kentucky’s public workers,” according to a report by Pew.
However, by 2015, the Kentucky pension fund was rated one of the worst in the nation. According to a report in the Lexington Herald Ledger, “the public pension fund that covers 120,595 Kentucky state government workers and retirees continued its rapid decline in Fiscal Year 2015, ending with only 19 percent of the assets it’s expected to need to pay its future bills.”.
“Pew has been telling them [Alabama Legislators], you need to be like Kentucky,” said Bronner. “And the interesting thing about it is, if you went the Kentucky way, you make the situation worse.” Adding, “The long and short of it is the member gets less and the State gets to pay more. You can’t make it any clearer than that.”
Bronner says, if lawmakers want to hurt public employees “just because you want to hurt them, that’s one thing. But to hurt them and pay more to hurt them doesn’t make any sense at all.”
For over 40 years, Bronner has jealously guarded the State’s pension fund, with tenacity and smarts from the meddling of politicos. He says his job requires long-term thinking and commitment, something that is often missing from elected lawmakers.
“Politicians are elected for four years…they got elected because they promised somebody something – whether it’s the general public or whether it’s a special interest group…and most want to get reelected…, so, they have to do something in their four years,”said Bronner.
He says, the job of a “pension fund guy,” is to “make sure the twenty-year-old teacher or the twenty-year-old state employee or the twenty-five-year-old state employee has something when they’re sixty or sixty-five years old.” The job, as Bronner sees it, demands that he protect the employees contributions for “forty years or fifty years – or whoever replaces me – to protect those funds so that the person who contributed all those years has what was promised to them.”
During the interview, Bronner was reminded of a something Gov. George Wallace told him years ago. “George Wallace taught me sort of an interesting thing. It’s sort of fun to be in politics when there’s more money coming up in the next year than the previous years [because special interests are fighting over who gets what] but it’s no fun at all when it’s flat or, more importantly, when it’s less than the year before, that’s when it’s really gets ugly.”