Editorial: Alabamian of the year — David Bronner is wise steward who has improved this state
by The Anniston Star Editorial Board
Dec 31, 2013 | 3798 views |  0 comments | 24 24 recommendations | email to a friend | print
In this May 31, 2012 photo, Retirement Systems of Alabama Executive Director David Bronner poses for a photo in his Montgomery, Ala., office. One study of the state pension program shows it has put about 10 percent of its investments in Alabama, and those investments in businesses, hotels and golf courses have paid off for the state. But a second study of the Retirement Systems of Alabama shows its total investment package has generated smaller returns than similar retirement programs for public employees. Photo: Phillip Rawls/The Associated Press
In this May 31, 2012 photo, Retirement Systems of Alabama Executive Director David Bronner poses for a photo in his Montgomery, Ala., office. One study of the state pension program shows it has put about 10 percent of its investments in Alabama, and those investments in businesses, hotels and golf courses have paid off for the state. But a second study of the Retirement Systems of Alabama shows its total investment package has generated smaller returns than similar retirement programs for public employees. Photo: Phillip Rawls/The Associated Press
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Consider an offer no successful entrepreneur can resist: Expand one facet of your business. The costs for the first three years of expansion are completely funded. Afterward, the entrepreneur’s share slowly grows until it is capped at 10 percent of the costs.

The deal doesn’t involve anything illegal or immoral. In fact, its success will very likely benefit all parties.

For much of 2013, David Bronner, CEO of Retirement Systems of Alabama and wise investor, made it his mission to call out Gov. Robert Bentley for rejecting just such a deal.

The Affordable Care Act offers states incredible incentives to expand their Medicaid health-insurance programs. The goal is to provide coverage to members of the working poor, men and women whose income is too high to qualify for existing Medicaid but too low to afford health insurance on the individual market.

So, the feds pay all the costs for the first three years of Medicaid expansion. Over the next couple of years, a state’s share grows until it reaches its limit at 10 percent.

“To turn it down makes no sense whatsoever to me. It is irresponsible,” Bronner said during a June speech in Tuscaloosa.

Over 2013, Bronner called attention to the benefits of Medicaid expansion, citing data from a study by UAB researchers:

• Providing 300,000 currently uncovered Alabamians with health insurance.

• Creating 30,000 jobs.

• Increasing state tax revenue by $1 billion.

All of this for the cost of paying $1 for every $10 spent.

For his ongoing campaign to bring smart health-care decision-making to the governor’s office, as well as his four decades of service to the state’s public-sector employees and to the state’s economy, The Star names David Bronner as its Alabamian of the Year for 2013.

Since creating the distinction in 2008, we have considered candidates under this definition, “An Alabamian (or Alabamians) who made a significant mark on events over the past year; someone who lived up to the state creed’s ‘to foster her advancement within the statehood of the world.’ “

Bronner, 68, spent 2013 pressing for change in a state where politics and ideology too often reign over common sense. After all, plenty of conservative Republican governors in other states have shaken their fist at Obamacare with one hand while gladly receiving Medicaid-expansion dollars with the other.

Frankly, without the federal government’s involvement Alabama wouldn’t even have its bare-bones Medicaid program. For that matter, the feds already pick up many of the costs associated with Alabama’s highways, public school programs, college tuition, food stamps and other necessities.

Yet, Bentley, who is a physician, has drawn a line in the sand on Medicaid expansion. Turning down this arrangement makes no sense to Bronner.

As Bronner put it in a recent oped column, “Politics is taking precedence over the poor, and that is not acceptable.”

RSA’s CEO went on to suggest for Bentley to “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 others “that support expanding Medicaid.”

No person’s life can be reduced to a single year; thus, this page considers our Alabamian of the Year’s lifetime achievements.

Bronner offers much to review on this score.

Retirement Systems of Alabama (RSA) was worth $500 million in 1973 when Bronner came aboard. With Bronner at the helm, the RSA is today worth more than $30 billion.

With the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, vast real estate holdings (including many office buildings with a signature green roof), a chain of newspapers, hotels and other investments, RSA under Bronner has done well — and it’s done good, bringing visitors to Alabama in addition to improving the financial footing of the state’s employees. By one economist’s measure, RSA has invested more than $5 billion in Alabama since 1990.

Of course, even the wisest investor makes mistakes, and Bronner has had his share. Yet, Alabama is in a far better position because Bronner came south from Minnesota, first for a law degree from the University of Alabama and then to manage RSA.

Bronner is the builder of tall buildings. He is the developer of major tourism attractions. He is the wise steward who has improved the lives of thousands of public employees. And with a vast track record of success in business, Bronner is a rational voice calling for a governor to do right by the people of his state. Our hope is that he will succeed in 2014.

Past Alabamians of the year

2008: Albert Brewer, ex-governor of Alabama and leading advocate for constitutional reform

2009: Jimmy Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia

2010: Bob Riley , former governor of Alabama

2011: The congregation of the First Baptist Church of Williams for its outreach in the 2011 storms

2012: Carolyn Akers, education reformer and head of the Mobile Area Education Foundation
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