Thursday, June 01, 2023

Idaho lawmakers seek to end investments in Russia

| March 4, 2022 7:00 AM

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Lawmakers on Wednesday voted to introduce legislation seeking to dump investments in Russia following that nation's invasion of Ukraine.

"Ukraine is a nightmare and a disaster right now," said Democratic Rep. John Gannon, one of the sponsors of the legislation. "Bullying by Russia has become a war for no reason, and this war has been condemned by the world."

The House State Affairs Committee voted to introduce a resolution affecting the $3.2 billion Endowment Fund.

Those investments are managed by the Endowment Fund Investment Board, mainly for public schools. About 28 percent of the fund is invested in international and global stock.

Chris Anton, the board's investment manager, said Wednesday that the state sold $1.2 million of Russian investments Wednesday and has $1.7 million remaining invested in Russian debt that the country has frozen, making a sale impossible for now.

"Overall, our exposure is almost nothing compared to the size of the fund," Anton told The Associated Press in an interview.

The board also manages about $1 billion for the state insurance fund, a workers' compensation fund. Anton said the only Russian investment there was a roughly $300,000 bond in a Russian oil company that the state also sold on Wednesday.

The measure that lawmakers brought involving the Endowment Fund is simply a resolution encouraging the Endowment Fund Investment Board to dump Russian investments as lawmakers have no control over the board.

Anton said financial managers have already made those moves, but won't be able to get rid of the $1.7 million in Russian debt holdings until the Russian government lifts its freeze on selling off investments.

The second measure is a bill concerning the state's public employee retirement system, called the Public Employee Retirement System of Idaho. Such a bill if it became law could require divestment in Russia.

Gannon said the state's retirement system has about $7 million invested in Russia involving Russian currency and bonds, with much of that held in Russia. Gannon said Russia has frozen those assets, making it difficult for Idaho officials to take action.

The two measures include language asking the Endowment Fund Investment Board and retirement system officials to detail investments in Russia within seven days.

Republican Rep. Bruce Skaug, a co-sponsor of the two pieces of legislation, said his son-in-law is from Ukraine and has family and friends engaged in the fighting against soldiers sent by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Skaug said those relatives and friends have sent them graphic images from the invasion.

"It's personal to me because it's family now," Skaug said in a phone interview. "Also, Idaho should have no investments supporting a petty dictator, and Putin is a petty dictator who happens to be in charge of a powerful country."

The Idaho House of Representatives on Wednesday also unanimously passed a resolution condemning Russia.

Republican House Speaker Scott Bedke and Democratic House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel issued a statement condemning the invasion and encouraging support for Ukraine.

State-operated liquor stores in Idaho have stopped selling Russian-made vodka.