BOSTON — The Massachusetts Senate has resurrected a plan to purge the state pension fund of Russian assets in response to its ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
During debate on a nearly $1.7 billion supplementary budget bill late last week, the Senate unanimously passed an amendment that calls for stripping the retirement fund of about $140 million. dollars in country-related stocks and investments.
Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr said withdrawing those investments would show solidarity with the Ukrainian people’s struggle against Russia’s unprovoked war.
“We should in no way be complicit – direct or indirect – in what the Russian government is pursuing in Ukraine,” the Gloucester Republican said.
The measure’s inclusion in the massive spending bill – which includes money for COVID-19 tests and vaccinations, transportation projects and rental assistance – revives a plan that was practically died after his rejection by the lower house.
Last week, the House voted to reject an amendment similar to its version of the Supplementary Estimates from Minority Leader Brad Jones, R-North Reading and others calling for removing Russian assets from the pension fund.
The issue will likely be a sticking point in negotiations between House and Senate lawmakers, who will need to resolve differences between the spending bills before sending a final version to Gov. Charlie Baker for consideration.
House Speaker Ron Mariano, D-Quincy, defended the chamber’s rejection of the divestment plan, saying it was unlikely to accomplish much because the Russian stock market remains closed. He said unraveling Russian investments through second or third parties “would be too difficult” under the circumstances.
Treasurer Deb Goldberg, whose office oversees the pension fund, said the nearly $87 billion pension system has about $140 million in Russian investment.
Goldberg told lawmakers she does not have the authority to dispose of holdings in the Pension Reserves Investment Trust, which requires legislative action.
The legislature has reacted to other wars and international crises in the past by ordering managers of state pension funds to divest from plans in countries such as Iran, Sudan, South Africa and the United States. Northern Ireland on humanitarian grounds.
Tarr has tabled a separate proposal that would give the state the power to seize Russian banking assets and void state contracts that may have ties to President Vladimir Putin and Russian oligarchs.
It’s unclear how much money, if any, the Russian government has tied up in Massachusetts banks or if there are any state contracts tied to Russian companies.
Two weeks ago, Baker signed an executive order directing executive agencies to conduct a review of state contracts to determine if there are any ties to Russian companies that can be severed in response to the invasion.
That review is still ongoing, according to Baker administration officials.
Baker’s directive also calls on independent state agencies, public colleges and universities, and other constitutional offices to adopt similar policies.
President Joe Biden, who is in Europe for emergency meetings with NATO officials to discuss the war in Ukraine, announced new sanctions against Russia on Friday and promised additional aid for Ukrainian refugees.
He also promised increased US military support for NATO countries concerned about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s territorial ambitions after the invasion.
“Putin was betting on the NATO split,” Biden said at a press briefing. “NATO has never been so united as it is today. Putin gets the exact opposite of what he intended to get by going to Ukraine.
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group newspapers and websites. Email him at [email protected]