BOSTON — Massachusetts is set to strip the state retirement fund of Russia-related stocks and other holdings in response to its 6-week war in Ukraine.
On Friday, Governor Charlie Baker signed a $1.6 billion supplemental budget bill that calls for the pension fund to dispose of about $140 million in country-related investments. The bill, which includes money for COVID-19 vaccines, testing and rental assistance, passed the Legislature with bipartisan support.
Lawmakers say the withdrawal of those investments shows solidarity with the Ukrainian people’s struggle against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked war.
“It’s the least we can do,” said Rep. Lenny Mirra, R-Georgetown, who backed the measure. “Putin is a thug and a tyrant and we must do everything we can to stand up to him. I wish more states would take this step.
Rep. Paul Tucker, D-Salem, said he was “horrified” by the nighttime footage of Russia’s brutal war against a neighboring country and also wanted to send a message.
“People can look at this and say ‘well, it’s just one state,’ but I think it really shows the solidarity that we stand with the Ukrainian people,” Tucker said. “It’s also a way of signaling our disapproval of what Russia is doing.”
Treasurer Deb Goldberg, whose office oversees the pension fund, said the nearly $104 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.
Beacon Hill has responded to other wars and international crises by depriving the fund of regimes from countries such as Iran, Sudan, South Africa and Northern Ireland.
Baker signed an executive order several weeks ago 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.
Baker’s directive also calls on independent state agencies, public colleges and universities, and other constitutional offices to adopt similar policies.
Massachusetts joins several states – including California, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut – that are asking their public employee pension funds to divest themselves of their holdings of Russian stocks or cease all new investment in these entities.
President Joe Biden has imposed a series of economic sanctions on Russian businesses, politicians and oligarchs linked to Putin’s regime. He also banned the import of Russian oil and gas.
New reports of alleged war crimes and atrocities committed by Russian troops have led Western nations to call again for increased military support for Ukraine and new punitive economic measures against Russia.
Biden said on Monday he believed Russia committed war crimes in the Ukrainian town of Bucha and pledged to impose more sanctions on Putin’s regime.
“This guy is brutal and what’s happening in Bucha is outrageous and everyone has seen it,” Biden told reporters.
Several neighboring countries have pledged to divest completely from Russian fuel supplies and are pressuring other countries to do the same.
And governments are not the only entities seeking to punish Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, which is entering its sixth week.
More than 400 private companies – including Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and Starbucks – have terminated, suspended or reduced their operations in Russia.
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group newspapers and websites. Email him at [email protected]