Danger! Investing in Alabama

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 21, 2013

By David Bronner

I have been called many things in the past 40 years of serving Alabamians as the head of the Retirement Systems of Alabama. Call me liberal or conservative, arrogant or brilliant, but dangerous? Really, Gov. Bentley. Dangerous?

In remarks on RSA investments to an Alabama-based Raycom political reporter on Dec. 18 that is exactly what Gov. Bentley called me. “That’s pretty dangerous if someone uses your proxy,” said Gov. Bentley. “I wouldn’t give somebody my proxy.”

When I started with the Retirement Systems of Alabama in 1973, it was worth $500 million. Over the years it has grown and now sits at $30-plus billion. Let’s take a look at some of my “dangerous” financial investments and their impacts on Alabama:

Golf. People thought I was crazy coming up with the concept of a golf trail. Now the golf trail has enhanced the image of Alabama and recently welcomed its 10 millionth round of golf. Twenty-one years ago the Golf Trail did not exist and now it is among the top golf destinations in the world, according to GOLF Magazine, Golf Digest and Golf Channel. Very dangerous.

Hospitality. The RSA owns eight upscale hotels, including favorites from Travel + Leisure, Conde Nast Traveler, Successful Meetings and other leading publications. Not only are these hotels showcasing the best in Southern Hospitality, they also employ thousands of workers. Ask the elected officials in Florence, Hoover, Opelika, Prattville, Montgomery, Mobile and Fairhope if our hotels are dangerous.

Real Estate: Are those green roofed buildings across the state dangerous? From RSA Battle House tower in Mobile to multiple blocks in the Capitol city to residential communities in Opelika and Fairhope, RSA investments are making Alabama a great place to work and live. Not all RSA’s real estate investments are in Alabama. We own the largest building in New York City and tenants, including Standard & Poor’s, pay Alabama rent. Very dangerous.

Pensions: From state workers to teachers, Alabama has one of the best pension programs in the country. Taking care of these investments is what gets me up early in the morning and keeps me up at night. We averaged a return of over 14 percent last year and RSA has ranked in the top 25 percent in the State Street Public Funds Universe for the last three years. If that is dangerous, count me in.

Real Danger: Medicaid – 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. Gov. Bentley, listen to your friends in the Alabama Hospital Association, the Business Council of Alabama, AARP Alabama, American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, Alabama Primary Health Care Association, American Academy of Pediatrics Alabama Chapter, Children First Foundation and other “dangerous” groups that support expanding Medicaid.

More Danger: Restricting Investments – The investments made by the RSA are strategic, financially sound and successful. Our team has a proven track record in investing the money of our teachers and state employees. It is surprising that two of the people you appointed to the ERS board who had only attended one meeting previously are now trying to restrict our investment options and you had no knowledge of their actions in advance. Hogwash.

Gov. Bentley, you were elected to serve all of the people of Alabama and even took the Hippocratic Oath earlier in your career. It is time to stop the politics and start the healing.


Dr. David G. Bronner is CEO of the Retirement Systems of Alabama.