Cities and states are in a fiscal crisis. Municipal bond defaults are now at their highest in a decade. Despite a $500 billion Federal Reserve intervention, with more potentially on the way, regulators have yet to address a longstanding structural problem—a group of the nation’s biggest banks that has cornered the market for municipal bond underwriting. This concentration of power has the potential to raise the interest rates on the bonds local governments urgently need to salvage their finances and the costs could be in the billions. While some municipalities will default on their debt, others will need to increase borrowing to continue providing public services. But the structural issues in the municipal-bond market could make borrowing costlier and alternatives are needed.

Could or should Rochester have a publicly-owned bank? As reported by Gino Fanelli for CITY Newspaper, “the idea would have the city take the millions of dollars in tax revenue it currently deposits in big commercial banks and park the money in a city-owned and -operated financial institution that would invest in the local economy by providing inexpensive and accessible financing to city businesses, developers, and would-be homeowners.”

As Connecticut reckons with the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, lawmakers and community organizers have returned to the idea of public banking as a possible saving grace. Public banks — described as “operated in the public interest” and “owned by the people through their representative governments” by the Public Banking Institute, or PBI — are not an unfamiliar concept to the Connecticut legislature. Multiple bills to establish such banks, or to study the feasibility of doing so, have been introduced without success in the past five years.

Under the terms of new state legislation announced Thursday, a California public bank would be established to help with a more equitable economic recovery from the Covid-19 crisis. Assembly Bill 310, authored by Assembly Members Miguel Santiago, D-Los Angeles, and David Chiu, D-San Francisco, would relocate “idle” funds from the state’s “checking account” into the California Infrastructure and Economic Development Bank, or IBank, by moving 10% of the state’s Pooled Money Investment Account (PMIA) into the IBank’s loan fund.

The PMIA is essentially an investment vehicle for taxpayer money used by the state treasurer to manage the state’s cash flow.

Using these funds and expanded authority under the legislation, the IBank would be able to directly lend funds and offer credit to community banks, credit unions, municipalities and small businesses struggling because of the economic downturn…

News reports detail how the Main Street Lending Program and the Paycheck Protection Program, the Fed’s programs to assist small- and medium-sized business, have failed in their missions. This is partly because the private banks’ participation in the programs was optional, creating confusion for those applying. Loan-seekers had to search for a participating bank, then try to figure out how to apply for the programs. Many banks did not even know the programs existed.

In early 2019 Common Ground OR/WA engaged the Northwest Economic Research Center (NERC) at Portland State University to conduct a study of the effects of land value taxation in two contrasting Portland communities. The NERC study clearly reveals inequities caused by the tax assessment limitation mandated by Measure 50 that have compounded over the past 22 years. Among the parcels analyzed in the Inner Northeast (INE), the maximum assessed value (MAV) is only 29 percent of real market value (RMV); in Outer Southeast (OSE), the MAV/RMV ratio is a higher 55 percent – closer to true market value. This means OSE properties that have grown in real value at a slower rate are subject to a higher effective tax rate ($12.17 per 1,000 MAV) under the current tax system than INE properties ($7.29 per 1,000 MAV). For example, a $500,000 home at maximum assessed value located in INE is subject to a property tax of about $4,700; an equivalent property located in OSE would experience a tax of about $6,000. Property owners in OSE are making up the difference for the below market-based tax levies owed by INE owners.

In the first few chaotic weeks of the Paycheck Protection Program, federal officials and banks throughout the country struggled to get bailout funds to small businesses as layoffs and furloughs climbed into the tens of millions. But there was one exception, a place where loans found their mark more quickly than any other: North Dakota….What’s their secret?