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Opinion | When it comes to money, listen to David Bronner

The CEO of RSA has a proven track record. When he issues warnings and makes suggestions, we should pay attention.

David Bronner
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When it comes to matters of money, there’s a simple rule you should follow: listen to the people who have a proven track record of making lots of it. 

David Bronner falls in that category. 

The Retirement Systems of Alabama CEO has made oodles of cash over his many years at the helm, and he’s done so when others have failed and other states’ retirement systems have sought bankruptcy and other desperate measures. He knows how to make money, and he knows the history of this state. 

So, when Bronner takes the time and makes an effort to speak up publicly about a concern – something he rarely does – you’d probably be wise to listen. 

Over the last couple of weeks, Bronner has been warning state officials that the economic outlook for Alabama’s future budgets is grim. We’re losing a lot of revenue streams, giving away billions of education dollars and can’t count on federal funds to prop us up as they have over the past four years. 

“The train is coming down the track,” Bronner warned Tuesday during a brief meeting with reporters. 

Bronner’s solution is a simple one: Pass that gambling bill. 

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He wants to see Ivey call a special session of the Legislature with one issue on the agenda: passing the comprehensive gaming bill that was created and passed by the House last session, but failed in the Senate. 

That bill would have allowed voters to cast ballots for a statewide education lottery, up to 10 casino locations, sports wagering, a state-Poarch Creek compact and a new gambling commission to stamp out illegal gaming. It was projected to haul in more than $1 billion annually, with funding for education and scholarships, health care expansion and infrastructure. 

Of course, calling a special session isn’t a move that would be made in a vacuum. There’s no reason to call a special session if everyone goes into it with the same opinions and same intentions. So, prior to any session, the governor and legislative leaders from both houses would have to get together and hammer out an agreement. 

Arms would have to be twisted. Threats would have to be made. Carrots would have to be dangled. 

Bronner said he believes Ivey has the power and leadership capabilities to get it done. But I don’t know. I mean, she certainly once did – as we all saw with the gas tax – but Ivey has been increasingly absent from such fights and I get the sense that many lawmakers no longer fear her threats. 

Maybe this would be a good time to remind them. It certainly could be a career-defining moment. If she walks out of the door of the governor’s mansion having solved gambling, and established a scholarship program and expanded health care to hundreds of thousands of Alabamians, there’ll be some bridges and hospitals with “Ivey” in their names in the near future.

And here’s the thing: It wouldn’t even be all that hard to do. 

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Take the House bill and add one line in the portion outlining the bidding process: ensure state operators have an opportunity to make the last and best bid. 

Had that been in the bill last session, and had there been more of an effort to pressure senators from the start, we’d have gambling on the ballot this fall. 

The absence of that little phrase is what led the Poarch Creeks to back out. Without it, they had no guarantees that they could grow, or even maintain their businesses. When they publicly stated that they could no longer support the legislation, it opened the door for shenanigans. And if there’s one thing our Legislature does well – maybe the only thing it does well – it’s shenanigans.

Bronner is right on all fronts. During the recent boom times, the Legislature has given away billions of tax dollars through various programs, cuts and handouts to wealthy people. Just last session, they promised to give at least $100 million in public education money annually – and that number is certain to skyrocket in coming years – to private companies through the CHOOSE Act. 

In addition, federal streams of money are drying up and won’t be replaced anytime soon. 

All of that is on top of worsening expenditures in a number of key areas, such as health care, prison costs, prison health care costs and vital infrastructure projects. 

Like any smart person, Bronner sees gambling revenue as a no-brainer. It’s money from activities that are already taking place all around the state, not to mention it would simultaneously make those activities safer and better regulated. 

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Bronner is known for giving solid advice and making sound fiscal decisions. He’s been doing so for more than 50 years now. 

Hopefully, the leadership of this state will listen to him at least one more time.

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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