NJ moves to dump Russian investments. Will it matter?
During his 50 minute budget speech on Tuesday, Gov. Phil Murphy focused mostly on how he wants to spend a tax windfall, but also expressed strong support for Ukraine in the face of a Russian invasion.
About an hour before he entered the Assembly chamber to deliver his budget address, lawmakers unanimously approved a measure that would bar state and local governments and any public entity from doing business with the Russian government.
"We will take whatever actions are needed," Murphy said, "to ensure New Jersey taxpayer dollars are not supporting Putin's unlawful invasion of Ukraine."
Murphy has previously called Putin a "war criminal," but it is not clear if he will sign the bi-partisan legislation.
If he does sign the bill (S1889) into law, all public investments or any other financial agreements with a person or business connected to the Russian government would be banned.
It is a largely symbolic move, with the economic impacts to the Russian government believed to be minimal.
However, the cost of identifying such current Russian investment, especially to local governments, could be significant.
For example: New Jersey's current pension fund has assets nearing $94 billion. Of that, only $226.6 million had been identified as qualified investments under the bill. That number has been reduced to as little as $50 million as of last month. That's approximately half of one percent of the total state pension fund.
On the local level, the numbers are expected to be even smaller, if such investment exists at all.
Investment experts say financial exposures to one single entity or government are often deeply intertwined, and identifying them could be difficult and require costly audits.
Other state's have undertaken similar efforts to divest their investments in Russian linked business entities, but even collectively the impact to the Russian economy is not clear.
Murphy has expressed support for the legislation, in principal, but his office is reviewing the fiscal impact.
Whatever the cost of the audits needed to divest from Russia, bill sponsor Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin says the legislation sends "a clear message" to Russia that it's aggressions in Ukraine will not be tolerated.