Oregon Sen. Jeff Golden (D-Ashland) has proposed legislation this session that would reintroduce a state bank concept for Oregon. Senate Bill 339 would establish the Bank of the State of Oregon and provide more significant support for community banks and credit unions. If created, the state bank would be guided by an advisory board of directors in its management and operation, and would be subject to a mandatory audit by the secretary of state. As of Monday, the bill had not progressed beyond Finance and Revenue Committee, where it was referred on Jan. 19.

Oregon lawmakers want cities to be allowed to put their cash in banks other than large, for-profit institutions. Bills in the Legislature — Senate Bill 339 and House Bill 2743 — would enable municipalities to create public banks, which are owned and run by a state or municipality. James Davis, who chairs the Oregon Public Bank Alliance, said cities then could deposit their reserves somewhere besides big banks. He said that would create the capacity for public municipal banks to provide bigger loans and bonding for cities when they want to build infrastructure, such as buildings and bridges.

New Mexico’s Alliance for Local Economic Prosperity announced that the Credit Union Association of New Mexico, a statewide trade organization that advocates for credit unions, has formally endorsed a public bank for NM. This is a key endorsement and bolsters the group’s growing alliance to advance upcoming legislation that will be introduced in 2021.

Now that the big banks have concluded their earnings season, with the top highlight being the collapse in loan loss reserve builds from $33 billion in Q2 to just $5 billion in the quarter ended Sept 30…. in what some have taken as a vote of confidence for the economy as bank risk managers clearly don’t anticipate another sharp leg lower in the economy (that may change if a second wave of covid forces new shutdowns), we can take a closer look at some of the other, just as notable observations within the US financial sector.

Oregon lawmakers on Friday approved $30 million to turn hotels into shelter space in wildfire-affected areas — less than half of the money initially sought in a strikingly contentious and emotional committee hearing.With many Democrats urging swift action as wildfires and a pandemic have exacerbated an existing shortage of shelter beds, two prominent Democratic Senators wound up siding with Republicans to block another $35 million that could have been used to site shelters more broadly.

The pandemic has laid bare the failure of the federal government to justly deal with the economic fallout wrought by a disaster. Public banks at the state and local level could have helped our country get through the pandemic, and they could be vital in our recovery.
Public banks can provide a financial bulwark in our federal system by supporting local banking systems. They achieve this both by providing banking services to state and local governments and by financing credit programs to assist those most harmed by disasters, who are inevitably part of our most disadvantaged communities.

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.