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Alabama Pension CEO Urges Gaming Legalization for Revenue 

David G. Bronner, CEO of the Retirement Systems of Alabama, calls on Governor Kay Ivey to convene a special legislative session to legalize gaming, aiming to address the state's chronic underfunding and revenue shortfalls.
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Branimir Ivanov | Senior News Contributor

Updated: Jun 6, 2024

Alabama's Recent Struggles Show

In response to escalating inflation and Alabama's position as having the second-lowest tax rates in the nation, David G. Bronner, CEO of the Retirement Systems of Alabama, has called on Governor Kay Ivey to convene a special legislative session aimed at legalizing gaming in the state.

Revenue generation is the primary driver behind Bronner's plea. Alabama's state programs are suffering from chronic underfunding, a problem that gaming revenues could help alleviate. Earlier this year, the state came within one vote of legalizing gaming expansion, a missed opportunity Bronner believes Alabama cannot afford to repeat. The potential revenue from legalized gaming could provide much-needed financial support to various state programs and services that have been under strain for years.

Bronner detailed the critical funding shortfalls in the June 2024 edition of The Advisor, a newsletter for state employees. His article, titled “Say It Ain’t So,” outlined several areas where Alabamians are experiencing hardship due to lack of funding:

 

Key Highlighted Problems

  • Retirement Adjustments: Retirees on the Retirement Systems of Alabama have not received a cost of living adjustment in 18 years. This lack of adjustment has severely affected their purchasing power, especially in the face of rising inflation and increasing costs of essential goods and services.
  • Healthcare Access: Approximately 200,000 Alabamians lack access to affordable health care. The absence of affordable healthcare options has left many individuals and families without necessary medical treatments and preventive care, exacerbating health disparities across the state.
  • Rural Hospitals: Many rural hospitals are closing. The closure of these hospitals has created significant healthcare deserts in rural areas, forcing residents to travel long distances for basic and emergency medical care, which is not feasible for everyone.
  • State Agencies: State agencies have been severely underfunded for decades. This chronic underfunding has hindered the ability of these agencies to effectively serve the public, leading to inefficiencies and gaps in critical services provided to Alabama residents.

 

Funding Alternatives and Challenges

Typically, states might consider tax increases to fund essential programs. However, Bronner pointed out that Alabama's per capita tax burden is the second lowest in the country, making tax increases a difficult and politically sensitive solution. He noted that while anti-gaming advocates might suggest raising property taxes (which are the lowest in America), such measures have proven impossible to implement in the past. The political and public resistance to increasing property taxes has made it clear that alternative revenue sources need to be considered to address the state's funding issues.

Earlier this year, the Alabama House approved a bill to amend the state’s constitution, allowing a state lottery, seven commercial casinos, and full-fledged casino gaming for the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. This bill passed the House with a decisive 72-29 vote but fell one vote short in the Senate, missing the chance to be placed on the November ballot. The proposed legislation was seen as a comprehensive approach to legalizing and regulating gaming in the state, which would have provided a significant boost to Alabama's revenue streams.

Bronner expressed disappointment over the bill’s failure, noting it could have addressed the state’s revenue shortfalls and streamlined Alabama's complex gaming laws. He argued that the legislation would have introduced a new revenue stream for the state, essential for funding key programs. The failure of the bill underscored the challenges of navigating legislative processes and achieving consensus on contentious issues like gaming legalization.

 

“Alabama needs to move forward, not form a firing squad within a circle.”

 

A Call to Action

In his article, Bronner urged Governor Ivey to call a special session to approve gaming expansion. He also extended gratitude to lawmakers who supported the bill and challenged those who voted against it to propose alternative solutions to Alabama’s revenue issues. Bronner's call to action highlighted the urgent need for lawmakers to come together and find practical solutions to the state's financial challenges.

“Alabama needs to move forward, not form a firing squad within a circle,” Bronner concluded, emphasizing the urgency of finding viable revenue solutions for the state. His closing remarks were a direct appeal to the sense of responsibility among state leaders, urging them to prioritize the financial well-being of Alabama and its residents by considering all possible avenues for generating revenue.

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