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Public Banking - Time To Get Off Our Butts

By On
• In Bellingham,

While the city of Bellingham sits on its collective butt, others in Washington state are working to see that public banking comes to the state. I explained the need for, and the desirability of, public banking about 18 months ago in an article entitled Public Banks Are The Answer, where I said “Public banks are an effective way to use public funds for the good of communities, much like public utilities, instead of for the profit of private mega-banks that take the public’s money and use it to play in the Wall Street casino. With public banking, cities and states place their revenues in a much safer banking environment and then can borrow at low cost to finance public-good projects such as schools, roads, offices, parks, libraries, water treatment plans and…even jails.”

I later presented the concept to the City Council, however,my efforts with council were received with a collective yawn from a group that prides itself on its “progressive” nature. Instead, city hall spent its political capital for the past year on an ordinance on accessory dwelling units in an effort to deal with housing availability and affordability, a housing form that will solve neither issue. We could have been a bit more forward thinking (Isn’t THAT progressive?). If we had spent some effort ensuring public banking becomes a reality for cities and counties we could leverage our own monies for affordable public housing and other infrastructure projects. Instead, we continue to place our tax receipts and other revenue in private institutions where they get to earn money from our funds and leverage them for their own profit.

Here is the latest from Seattle (see attached file below for the reference):

“The Seattle Public Bank Feasibility Study held the first Stakeholder group meeting on Monday, May 21, 2018. The HR & A Advisors firm from New York got the feasibility study contract and a partner and analyst (the “consultants”) were at the meeting inside City Hall. We were told the Stakeholder group is not a decision making body. It can advise. There were at least 11 people attending: a diverse group with a representative of the city, an aide to Councilmember Mike O’Brien (who opened the meeting), public banking advocates, a progressive research institute leader, a private banker, and activists from the campaign to divest from Wells Fargo. HR & A is negotiating with a local law firm to subcontract the legal part of the feasibility study.

At the state level there is this news from Olympia via John Repp of the Seattle Public Banking group:

“Governor Inslee signed the legislation [see page 53] appropriating money for the Washington State Public Bank Business Plan study. ... Bob Hasegawa’s (11th District) and Patty Kuderer’s (48th District) offices are engaged with the Office of Financial Management (OFM) in Olympia in recruiting consultants to bid.”

And elsewhere - I just received the following from the Public Banking Institute quoting an article in The Nation about New York City’s efforts to establish a public bank:

“What if a city as a whole decided to create its own bank? The Public Bank NYC campaign calls for a full-fledged bank, owned and operated by and for the city, which could serve as a public trust invested in social justice, accountable to the public. “Right now, billions of the City of New York’s dollars are being held in commercial banks. That’s a problem, because it’s those same banks that make decisions about whom to lend to, and at what rates. … Those banks are also the same big financial institutions that were deemed “too big to fail” during the last financial collapse, and were only kept afloat during the Great Recession with a huge bail-out, ultimately funded by public money.

“A public bank for the city, on the other hand, would be a publicly operated financial institution that would hold funds belonging to the city and disburse them across public projects and community-based organizations based on citizens’ actual needs…”

And last a success story on public banking from American Samoa!

“It’s a huge deal for the people of American Samoa,” Phil Ware, president of the Territorial Bank, said in an interview…

There hasn’t been a commercial loan made on the island in five years or more,” he said. “So one of the first things we want to start doing is extend credit to the small-business community. That is a necessary part of the economy.”

Public-bank supporters, meanwhile, see the Fed approval as a sign that there won’t be regulatory hurdles to the creation of additional public banks in the U.S.”

The success of American Samoa ought to also be a signal to our local tribal governments, the Nooksack and the Lummi, who like their brothers and sisters of the Chickasaw Nation with their public bank, may also be in an excellent position to create public tribal banks under their treaty rights. As for the city of Bellingham, it should drive the municipal planning vehicle by looking way down the road ahead, and not at the hood ornament.

You can help make public banking a reality by:

1. Asking our mayor (klinville@cob.org) and our city council (ccmail@cob.org) to explore public banking options for municipalities like ours while providing support for the efforts in Seattle and Olympia.

2. Writing to or calling the governor and your state legislators to tell them you support public banking.

3. Keeping informed about public banking here and throughout the US by signing up for regular information from the Public Banking Institute and the Seattle Public Banking Coalition.

Attached Files

About Dick Conoboy

Writer • Member since Jan 26, 2008

Dick Conoboy is a recovering civilian federal worker and military officer who was offered and accepted an all-expense paid, one year trip to Vietnam in 1968. He is a former Army [...]

Comments by Readers

Jon Humphrey

Jul 14, 2018

A public bank is a great idea that would see significant in-state funding almost immediately from the Cannabis industry. Personal opinions about cannabis aside, right now major credit cards can’t be used at dispensaries. A public bank could issue credit for use in any store that is legal in the state, including Cannabis stores. You can probably get a lot of support from the Cannabis Industry. Also, all of the reasons you mentioned above. Still, the council does pick and choose when to use the federal government as an excuse to “make” them have to do, or not, do things. Cannabis is still technically illegal at the federal level, hence why credit cards can’t be used in Cannabis stores. Just like the big, scary, banks want. On a slightly related note, I just got done with an e-mail from Micahel Lilliquist stopping just short of saying that they will have to install small cells, regardless of what the community wants, because of federal regulation to do so. Really, no resistance even if the community doesn’t approve?! DADUs the community doesn’t want though, no problem. The fact that a reasonable land-use policy would give everyone what they want, reduce risks, etc. doesn’t seem to bother them at all. Apparently our “progressive liberals” on the council want big anti-net neutral, anti-first amendment telecom even if it’s dangerous. Sometimes, they want their hands tied by corporations like Verizon from time to time, so they have an excuse to do something that deep down they know they shouldn’t. I expect that is what is going on with housing and public banks. Special interests in the background pushing them one way or the other. Still, I will write to them about it :). Also, can we post a blanket statement about how the progressives on the council are completely fake progressives and say it will be good until the next regime change? It gets tiresome to have to say it in some way, shape, or form in almost every article. Then again, maybe it’s good to remind people all of the time how full of crap they are most of the time.

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Dianne Foster

Jul 14, 2018

Thanks Dick!  I worked on this issue for years through various channels,  had 3 teach-ins on the TBTF banks,  and since Obama wouldn’t break them up,  moved on to “Move Your Money”  campaign.   (out of for-profits into credit unions).    Worked on the Transition Whatcom finance committee,   in alignment with the Public Banking Institute.     Was discouraged that the state Dem candidate for state treasurer who campaigned on that issue didn’t make it.        I basically had almost given up,  but looks like there’s a glimmer of hope.   With 1% of our population owning 90% of the country’s wealth,   maybe us little people can do something after all.    It’s hard to fight neoliberalism,  as they believe in partnering with wealth and power, not confronting it.

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