The Lead

With Wolf’s encouragement, Pa.’s teachers’ pension fund dumps Russian investments

By: - March 3, 2022 4:53 pm

VILNIUS, LITHUANIA – FEBRUARY 24: People hold flags and posters during a protest against Russian attack on Ukraine near the Russian Embassy, on February 24, 2022 in Vilnius, Lithuania. Overnight, Russia began a large-scale attack on Ukraine, with explosions reported in multiple cities and far outside the restive eastern regions held by Russian-backed rebels. (Photo by Paulius Peleckis/Getty Images)

In an emergency session on Thursday, Pennsylvania’s teachers’ pension fund voted to pull between $270 million and $300 million in assets out of Russia and Belarus.

The Public School Employees Retirement System board approved the divestment resolution unanimously. It calls for the fund to sell all of its investments in the two countries. 

The resolution also will prevent the fund from investing in either nation in the future until the board takes further action. Russia invaded Ukraine last week. Belarus, a Russian ally that borders Ukraine to its north, was a staging ground for the invasion. 

The assets are just a fraction of the system’s $72 billion in assets, which pay for the current and future retirement of 500,000 teachers and other education workers.

But “any amount of investment in these two countries now poses an unacceptable risk,” PSERS board Chairperson Chris Santa Maria said at the start of the meeting, reading from a prepared statement.

Pennsylvania lawmakers look to pull public funds from Russia amid war in Ukraine

The action comes amid widespread action by western governments to divest from Russia.

Pennsylvania has not been immune from the push. Over the weekend, the state Liquor Control Board, one of the U.S.’s largest liquor purchasers, dropped two Russian-made vodka brands after pressure from lawmakers and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf.

In a Thursday letter, Wolf likewise, called for both PSERS and its sister fund, the State Employees Retirement System, to dump Russian investments.

In an accompanying statement, Wolf said he’d sign legislation banning state agencies from investing in Russia, as Republican and Democratic legislators have proposed. Such legislation would add Russia to a list of countries that the systems can no longer do business with. The list also includes Sudan and Iran.

But in the meantime, Wolf said PSERS and SERS should “act now where we can.”

“We must do what is within our power to bring an end to the suffering of the people of Ukraine,” Wolf added.

Earlier this week, SERS spokesperson Pam Hile said the fund’s exposure to Russia-related investments amounts to a fraction of one percent. The fund planned to “discuss Russia-related investments” during a regular board meeting Friday, Hile added.

All told, the system has nearly $40 million in assets to cover the retirements of 239,000 current and former public sector workers.

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Stephen Caruso
Stephen Caruso

Stephen Caruso is a former senior reporter with Pennsylvania Capital-Star. Before working with the Capital-Star he covered Pennsylvania state government for The PLS Reporter.