The Massachusetts Public Banking campaign, a sponsored project of Alliance for Democracy, is organizing for a 2021 refiling of our bill to create a public bank to fund municipal infrastructure projects. We are also assessing potential changes to the bill to help the state build a more just and resilient economy following the COVID-19 pandemic.
Our steering committee is looking at how to broadly define infrastructure in order to win more municipal and public support, as well as considering whether the bank should be empowered to lend directly to small businesses as well as cities and towns. Steering committee members are also very aware that the economic crisis brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic could easily be a precursor for more long-lasting disruption caused by climate collapse. That realization makes our work all the more urgent.
The group also has new steering committee leadership: Alliance vice co-chair Ruth Caplan, formerly a coordinator for the DC Public Banking Center. Ruth was also the editor of our Spring 2014 issue of Justice Rising, focusing on public banking and the role these banks play in protecting local economies. Ruth relocated from Washington DC to Boston in the fall, and for someone with her experience working on democratizing finance, getting involved with the state’s public banking campaign was a given.
Ruth joins Alliance national campaigns coordinator Barbara Clancy in co-chair duties. Barbara has been involved with public banking organizing in Massachusetts since 2013, when a handful of Bay Staters met each other at a Public Banking Institute conference in Philadelphia. After that group did more networking back home, Massachusetts Public Banking emerged from an energetic group of activists interested in all kinds of alternatives to Wall Street, including foreclosure protection, community currencies, and local credit networks.
Our legislation is designed to establish a public bank, owned by the state and operated by independent professionals, which would make loans to municipalities for infrastructure projects, at lower cost and with less paperwork than private banks. Currently the bill defines infrastructure broadly, to include community-enhancing projects like recreation and senior centers, bike paths and sidewalks, purchase of agricultural land, and projects designed to increase resiliency to climate change.
In building for the next legislative session, we’ll be increasing our outreach efforts. Mayors and town managers can be strong advocates for the bill. Voters can encourage their legislators to co-sponsor, and organizational endorsements are also key to getting support at the State House. If you live in Massachusetts and would like to be involved we can use your help connecting with both elected officials and organizations that might be able to endorse our legislation. Contact us here.
We are also watching what's going on at the federal level, especially the lack of disclosure in some direct stimulus payments to businesses, either through the federal government or the Federal Reserve. Tracking where the money goes is key to controlling waste, fraud, and cronyism. Neighborhood-level small businesses can't be ignored. And since the US Postal Service is key to voting by mail--the safest way to defend democracy in a pandemic--they must also be helped.
Hard times require new thinking. Public banking is a way to sidestep crony capitalism both in government and on Wall Street. As the California Public Banking Campaign points out, public banks are a very efficient way of making the most out of available public funds, and, when partnered with local banks, builds on those banks’ first hand knowledge of local economic needs. Public banks also keep profits in the community to be reinvested, and can loan not just to municipalities and small businesses, but to non-profits and other community-building institutions. A broader and more just recovery is possible if we put public money to work for the public good.