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Bronner: Gambling legislation still best bet for state retiree raises

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — David Bronner, head of the Retirement Systems of Alabama, is urging Gov. Kay Ivey to call a special session, to give lawmakers another shot at placing gambling legalization on the ballot. It’s the best bet, he argued, to fund raises for state retirees.

Bronner made the comments to Alabama Daily News on Tuesday following a meeting of the Employees Retirement Board of Control where it approved retirement benefits for nearly 1,400 new state retirees at an annual cost of just over $43.2 million.

During the meeting, board members briefly discussed how efforts to provide raises for Alabama’s nearly 100,000 state retirees fell through toward the end of the recent legislative session, noting that gambling legislation had taken up much of the oxygen in the session’s waning days.

The Employees’ Retirement Board of Control holds a June 11 meeting at the RSA Building on South Union Street in Montgomery.

The gambling legislation, which passed out of the House but came short of one vote in the Senate, was projected to generate as much as $749 million in annual revenue for the state. The bill would have placed the question of legalizing gambling on the ballot as a referendum.

That legislation, along with its new revenue, Bronner argued, was still the best way to fund a substantial cost-of-living raise, known as a COLA, for state retirees.

“Most members out there want a COLA, they don’t want a $50 or $100 check; I can’t agree to such a thing unless they put up the money or have a funding source,” Bronner told ADN after the meeting. “That’s why you needed gaming.”

A number of lawmakers late last session expressed disappointment when deliberating on the 2025 Education Trust Fund budget, lamenting its lack of raises for retired teachers. Rep. Danny Garrett, R-Trussville, chair of the House Ways & Means Education Committee, said at the time that the state simply couldn’t afford raises this year.

Bronner concurred that a COLA would be a major financial commitment, but argued that was the very reason that the gambling legislation should not be abandoned.

“You have the best and toughest speaker I’ve seen since I came here, you have a good governor, but you’ve got to have some help from the Senate,” Bronner, who’s led the systems for more than 50 years, told ADN.

“I think the governor has the ability and the power to call them in and get two or three votes that decide. In the olden days, we had a few governors that would call you in, and you might have left with a sore shoulder and a few other things, but dammit, you got it done.”

Bronner had recently called for Ivey to call a special session to give lawmakers another shot at the gambling legislation in the June edition of The Advisor, the official RSA newsletter.

“(Ivey’s) the one that’s got the leadership ability to say, ‘Look, I didn’t lose by half the Senate, I lost by one vote, I know I can get more than one vote,’” he told ADN. 

“I hope for a special session because every year it becomes harder; next year it will be harder to pass than this year because they’re getting closer to elections.”

In early May, Ivey had already poured cold water on the prospect of calling a special session for gambling legislation, suggesting it would be pointless given that there was no evidence that the views of the bill’s opponents had changed. 

And on Tuesday, her office reaffirmed that position.

“Gov. Ivey has been on the record for years saying the people of Alabama deserve to have their say on gaming; in fact, she commissioned a study group in 2020 to help the Legislature and the voters make the best decision with all the facts,” Gina Maiola with Ivey’s office told ADN in an email.

“Since then, Gov. Ivey has been engaged in every legislative effort and even supported multiple attempts this past session. While she remains supportive of legislation to address gambling in Alabama, she has made it clear that she has no plans to call a special session at this time.”

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