NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Opinion

June 18, 2014

Divestment of state pension fund is misguided

Pittsfield Democrat Sen. Benjamin Downing has come up with a plan to send a message to fossil fuel companies who, in his judgment, are destroying the earth and possibly killing babies too: divestment of $1.3 billion of the state’s $54 billion state pension fund, which is by a large measure an unfounded liability for the taxpayers of Massachusetts.

He along with activists (mostly college students of whom many have their own unfounded liabilities) are prosecuting a public relations stunt by filing a bill to become the first state in the union to draw a black oil line in the sand. The rationale is to engineer social change by forcing local governments, universities and nonprofit organizations to withdraw public funding through the form of stock ownership and thereby affect policy just as was attempted with redirecting attitudes toward tobacco and apartheid.

Of course, I am not quite connecting how such a divestment will foster a quantum leap into aligning substantial renewable energy resources to transform society. But perhaps that’s just me, since neither wind, pedal power nor solar energy will replace gasoline to aid my daily commute to work

What is astonishing is how respected Democratic leaders are paying lip service to this outrageous concept. Both Attorney General Martha Coakley and state Treasurer Steve Grossman have offered “qualified support.” Generally, their mantra is that they would support this if it didn’t affect state pensions and hurt taxpayers. But surely this is politicking of the highest order, since both are candidates for governor this year.

Rather than pursuing a thesis here to rail against Liberal Democrats, let me instead not offend my friends in the Democratic party and subscribe to the theory that even in my party — I am a card-carrying member of the Republican Party — there is an extremist wing that doesn’t serve our society by any collective measure. Senator Downing’s idea is a disservice to the taxpayers of Massachusetts; and in fairness to hard-working public employees, their pensions would be put at greater risk than already exists due to a looming, unfunded level of obligations.

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