“MA Should Join CA, ND, in Starting a Public Bank”

Couldn’t agree more with this column by Jason Pramas in DigBoston!

Jason quotes our “Clear Case for a Public Infrastructure Bank” document, which lays out some of the documented problems with Massachusetts’s roads, bridges, tunnels and water systems, and gives results of a survey we did of Massachusetts mayors which demonstrated a need and interest in alternatives to current funding sources, including state or federal grants and bonding.

He details California’s adoption of AB 857, which permits the creation of ten public banks over the next twelve years in California, following state review and approval of their business plans. The California bill doesn’t put any restriction on the financing these banks can provide, although they will not be providing retail banking services to individuals. Proponents of AB 857 made a strong case for the bank being able to finance projects that big banks might pass by because of concerns about limited return on investment, such as small business loans and affordable housing. As the LA Times pointed out,

“Proponents say public banks can pursue those projects and support local communities’ needs while being free of the pressure to obtain higher profits and shareholder returns faced by commercial banks. Support for public banks also has grown since the financial crisis a decade ago and since Wells Fargo & Co. was embroiled in a slew of customer-abuse scandals in recent years.”

Jason points out that the California bill gives a boost to public banking efforts nationwide, including our bill, H.935/S.579., noting that a Massachusetts bank could start with infrastructure financing and then evolve and expand its mission to provide the broader range of services that the Bank of North Dakota offers, and that California banks are looking to offer as well. This is something we’ve discussed as well, and the bill as filed does leave broadening the mission open.

One of the outstanding strengths of the California campaign was its outreach to potential organization and political support. In the end, AB 857’s endorsers included the city councils of many of the state’s largest municipalities, unions, citizens groups, and political organizations, representing more than 3 million California voters. Lots of citizen lobbying in Sacramento helped drive the bill to the governor’s desk, where Governor Gavin Newsom was already on record in support of the concept.

Advocates for public banking were also darn near indominable, working on city level campaigns for years preceding the bill’s filing and the subsequent media focus on the issue. They refused to give up, reframing a 56-44% city ballot question defeat in LA as a victory for a very low-budget campaign introducing a new idea to millions of voters on a tight time frame. That dedication paid off.

Jason points out that it was the same kind of grassroots movement that built the Bank of North Dakota a hundred years ago. As for Massachusetts? “With the help of you and few thousand friends, who knows?” We could use a few thousand advocates with our state legislature, and we don’t mind coming out to meet you all a dozen or so at a time. If you’d like to invite us to talk to a group—union meeting, party city or town committee, civic organization, etc,or just want to know more as an individual voter, please contact us!

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