Russia’s surrender offer fails in Mass. House

BOSTON (State House News Service) — A Republican-led effort to cede state pension funds to companies with business interests in Russia fell flat in the House on Wednesday, where lawmakers rejected an amendment seeking to making Massachusetts one of many states that have used their retirement funds to make a political statement against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Amendment proposed by House Minority Leader Brad Jones would have given Treasurer Deb Goldberg the authority she needs to sell the small fraction of the $104 billion pension fund invested in tied assets to Russia.

The proposal, however, was voted down without debate after House Democrats excluded it from a blanket amendment crafted by House leaders, and Jones declined the opportunity to force it to be considered individually. The bulk amendment was attached to a $1.6 billion spending bill.

Jones, a Republican from North Reading, said he did not consider the issue dead in the House, but acknowledged that in conversations with House Ways and Means chairman Aaron Michlewitz some questions had been raised.

“There were some concerns. They weren’t necessarily against it. They might very well be inclined to do it. They just want to do it in a different vehicle or whatever, so I said, ‘That’s fine'” , said Jones. the News Service after the vote.

Jones’ amendment would also have prevented companies owned, controlled or based in Russia from accessing cash or securities in banks subject to Massachusetts supervision. Similar bills have been introduced in the Senate by Minority Leader Bruce Tarr and Senator Walter Timilty, a Democrat. These bills were referred by the Senate to the Joint Rules Committee.

Pension Reserve Investment Management’s board said none of its investments were affected by US sanctions on Russia, but the fund has a small “exposure” to Russia of $140 million, or less than 0.2% of the fund.

These Russian holdings are currently tied to stocks and government debt, Treasury officials say, and could not be sold until the Russian stock market, which has been closed since Feb. 28, reopens. At this point, some expect PRIM’s investments to be significantly devalued, if not worthless, due to the financial backlash against Russia.

House Speaker Ron Mariano said he “didn’t want to make statements” with a policy for political gain.

“You can’t enter the Russian stock market because it’s closed. The whole economy is closed, so what are we talking about?” asked the speaker.

Mariano said he couldn’t bear to watch about an hour a day of media coverage of the war because of the atrocities on display.

“It’s very difficult to have anything other than anger and resentment for what the Russians are doing and I understand that the solution is to ban everything, but you have to look at what is practical and what is not. “, Democrat Quincy said.

Mariano said the best thing Massachusetts and lawmakers can do is support President Joe Biden’s agenda “to isolate Russians on the world stage.”

“We’re a very small part of that. It’s global isolation,” Mariano said. “For this to be effective, they have to be piranhas all over the world, and they are slowly becoming the piranhas of the world.”

Goldberg, a Democrat from Brookline, said she supports divestment from Russian companies, but unlike some states where treasurers have acted alone, she would need permission from the legislature and the governor.

The details of such a policy can also make a big difference.

For example, Connecticut Treasurer Shawn Wooden said just days after the Russian invasion that he would divest more than $218 million in public pension funds invested in Russian-domiciled companies and sovereign debt. issued by Russia.

However, the broad scope of the Jones Amendment has raised questions about whether the intention was also to divest US companies that do business in Russia, such as Marriott or Starbucks.

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine nearly two weeks ago, calls for the divestiture of Russian pension funds have grown as the country’s heads of state seek ways to stand in solidarity with the Ukrainian people.

States controlled by both Democrats and Republicans like New York, Connecticut, Colorado, North Dakota and Louisiana have all withdrawn pension funds from some Russian investments, while other governors have taken more symbolic measures.

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, for example, has ordered all Russian-produced spirits removed from state-run liquor stores, while Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin has asked mayors to State to end sister city agreements with Russian cities.

And in North Carolina, Governor Roy Cooper, a Democrat, ordered state agencies to end any deals benefiting Russian organizations.

Prior to vacationing in Utah, Governor Charlie Baker signed an executive order ordering all executive agencies in Massachusetts to review their contracts and terminate any agreements with Russian state-owned companies.

But some Beacon Hill leaders have warned against acting too quickly without considering all the repercussions.

Senate Speaker Karen Spilka told the press service last Thursday that while she would “look closely” at the divestment, she also wanted to be “thoughtful” in the response to the war.

“There are a lot of small businesses, family businesses of immigrants from Russia or some of the surrounding countries who depend on their livelihood to, maybe, import or export to Russia or from Russia to here in the States States and they have absolutely nothing to do or any contact with Putin’s political system, or the Russian political party or any decision-making, so we risk in the long run doing serious harm to these little immigrant families,” said Spilka.

In the past, Spika has spoken publicly about his grandfather, Joseph Goldstein, who came to America in 1906 after fleeing a small village in Russia where he found his best friend hanged in the square the day after the two had protested together against the Tsar.

“I feel like we have to do everything we can to support Ukraine and the Ukrainian people and take a stand against Putin, because it’s against him that we have to take a stand, and not just against Russia in general,” Spilka said.

The Council on Jewish Community Relations of Greater Boston wrote a letter Tuesday to leading House and Senate Democrats supporting divestment from companies doing business with Russia.

JCRC executive director Jeremy Burton said Massachusetts’ Jewish community has strong roots in Ukraine, where more than 40,000 Jews live, and Putin’s war in the Eastern European country served of “painful reminder of the atrocities which destroyed these roots”.

“Although it is only a fraction of our pension fund ($104 billion), any money invested in Russia or in companies doing business with the Russian state is a tacit endorsement of the wrongful actions taken. by Russian President Vladimir Putin and those who support his regime,” Burton said. noted.

Written by Matt Murphy/SHNS

[Sam Doran contributed reporting.]

Comments are closed.