BOSTON — The Massachusetts state pension system has about $140 million in investments tied to Russian companies, and lawmakers are calling for those assets to be divested in response to Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
Earlier this week, a bipartisan group of lawmakers asked Treasurer Deb Goldberg, who oversees the pension fund, to “take immediate action” to fully divest all pension funds currently invested in Russian companies.
On Tuesday, Goldberg replied that the fund has about $140 million in Russian investments, or about 0.20% of the roughly $104 billion in the state pension fund.
Goldberg said she does not have the authority to unilaterally dispose of holdings in the pension reserves investment trust fund, a move that requires legislative action.
She noted that the legislature has reacted to other wars and international crises by ordering the pension fund to divest from regimes in countries such as Iran, Sudan, South Africa and Northern Ireland to humanitarian reasons.
“Like you, I am horrified by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade the sovereign nation of Ukraine,” Goldberg wrote. “I stand firmly with the brave people of Ukraine, who have chosen to defend democracy with defiance.”
The disclosure comes as Beacon Hill lawmakers consider a plan to divest the pension fund of Russian assets in response to the invasion of Ukraine.
Senator Barry Finegold, D-Andover, is among those supporting the transfer of the funds, saying it will send a “strong message to Russia that we will not do business with them until they leave Ukraine. and put an end to this madness”.
“We must do everything we can to support the Ukrainian people,” he said. “It is up to the legislator to act.
Rep. Lenny Mirra, R-Georgetown, also supports divestment from Russian corporate pension funds, noting that the $140 million is a “small portion” of the pension fund.
“We must do everything we can to help the Ukrainian people and send a message to this rogue Putin,” he said.
It’s unclear how quickly legislative leaders will move to consider the proposal, but one potential wrinkle in the divestment plan is that Russian stock markets are currently closed. This means that even if lawmakers approve the divestment, Russian investments may not be able to be sold for some time.
Lawmakers are also considering a bill that would ban the sale of Russian goods and products in the state.
Gov. Charlie Baker said Monday his administration is reviewing contracts with companies to determine if there are any ties to Russian companies that can be severed in response to the invasion.
Baker said he wanted to be careful that the state doesn’t end up shutting down immigrant-owned family businesses that may still have ties to Russia.
Senate Speaker Karen Splika, D-Ashland, echoed those concerns and said the state should not punish Russian immigrants for Putin’s attack.
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group newspapers and websites. Email him at [email protected]