Hillsborough Dem wants Florida to divest Russian assets

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Darlene Goodfellow worked as an instructor at USF’s College of Medicine in the 1980s and 90s, which earned her a pension from the Florida Retirement System. She wants the state to divest its assets in Russian and Russian-headquartered companies to show its disgust at its recent invasion of Ukraine.


What do you want to know

  • Since Russia invaded Ukraine in late February, more than two dozen states have taken steps to withdraw their assets in Russia to show solidarity with the Ukrainian people.
  • Florida has previously withdrawn its financial assets from unpopular regimes in Iran, Sudan and Venezuela
  • The state had invested around $300 million in Russian assets before the war began in Ukraine, a small part of the overall state portfolio of $190 billion. These Russian assets are considered to have lost considerable value since then

“I see no reason why my retirement funds and Florida State taxpayers’ money should be invested in Russian companies,” she told Spectrum Bay News 9 earlier this week. “I hope that in our state pension fund, our overall investments will be invested wisely enough to be able to offset this loss over the next few years.”

Since Russia invaded Ukraine in late February, more than two dozen states have passed laws or issued orders to divest any Russian-held investment, according to stateside.com. Florida is not one of these states.

The State Administrative Board (SBA) had about $300 million in Russian securities before the invasion. That’s about $190 billion in assets for the state pension system.

“It’s like fifteen cents on a hundred dollar bill,” said Lamar Taylor, acting SBA executive director and CIO. Taylor added that the value of that $300 million had dropped significantly since the war began.

Taylor said at last week’s Cabinet meeting that if his agency were “forced to divest today,” the only thing that would be guaranteed would be a loss to Florida’s retirement system and pension plan, what his agency is trying to avoid.

Governor DeSantis was quick to say that such an act would violate the SBA’s fiduciary duties, saying, “If you were liquidating at massive losses for political reasons, rather than in the interest of the beneficiaries.” Is that how you interpret your duties? »

“That’s right,” Taylor replied.

This response does not satisfy Hillsborough County Democratic state legislator Andrew Learned, who originally proposed an amendment to a bill prohibiting the SBA from investing FRS assets in any company doing business with Russia before the end of the regular legislative session last month. That proposal fell through, but Learned is pushing the idea again as the Legislative Assembly prepares to return to Tallahassee later this month for the special session announced earlier this week.

“If we’re going to be in a special session, if we’re going to go back to his card issue, then we can do things like property insurance and disposal of Russian assets,” Learned says. “There’s a whole list of issues that we have left on the table.”

So far, the only official item on the agenda for the special session scheduled for April 19-22 is the completion of the redrawing of congressional lines, although DeSantis speculated earlier this week that he would ask the legislative leaders, “if there’s something you can cross the finish line, I’ll encourage them to do it.

“In the world right now, I can’t think of anything bigger than the war in Ukraine and holding Putin accountable, so that should be high on our list as well,” Learned says.

“We have $300 million in retirement savings in Florida that are currently invested in Russia,” he says. “It’s money that sustains the Russian economy. It does not help the global sanctions regime, which is really the free people in the world who hold Vladimir Putin accountable for his war crimes in Ukraine.

Democrats used the issue politically, with all three gubernatorial candidates questioning DeSantis about his reluctance to act on the issue. Last week, the entire Florida Democratic delegation sent Governor a letter urging it to divest itself of Russian assets.

Historically, Florida has gotten rid of unpopular regimes in the past, such as Iran, Sudan and Venezuela.

And the blue and red states pushed for divestment from Russia. In Minnesota, the State Senate voted 67-0 this week to divest its assets outside of Russia.

The Russian stock market was firm at the start of the war. It was recently reopened for some domestic stock trading, but was closed to non-residents.

Darlene Goodfellow says she hopes the Legislative Assembly considers the issue when it meets later this month on Capitol Hill.

“It seems like something that our whole legislature should be able to support and show us that it can actually do something about it,” she says.

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