Vermont Towns Vote to Start a Public Bank that Works for Them*
By a more than three-to-one margin on Tuesday, communities voting on whether to support the creation of a public bank in Vermont approved the idea, calling for the state legislature to establish such a bank and urging passage of legislation designed to begin its implementation.
In a show of direct democracy that also exposed the citizenry’s desire for a more localized and responsible banking system, fifteen of nineteen towns passed the resolution during ‘Town Meeting Day’— an annual event in which voters choose local officials, approve municipal budgets, and make their voices heard on a number of measures put before local residents for approval.
The specific proposal under consideration, Senate Bill 204, would turn an existing agency, the Vermont Economic Development Authority, into a public bank that would accept deposits and issue loans for in-state projects. Currently, the only state in the U.S. to maintain a public state bank is North Dakota. However, since the financial downturn of 2008, other states have looked into replicating the North Dakota model as a way to buck Wall Street while taking more control of state and local finances.
Voicing his support of the measure ahead of Tuesday’s vote, Gary Murphy, a resident of South Ryegate, one of the towns that subsequently approved the measure, explained the thinking behind the plan this way in a letter to the local Times-Argus:
Senate bill 204 would expand the Vermont Economic Development Authority to become a state bank and would start out by depositing 10% of Vermont’s unrestricted money into the state bank. The bank would be able to leverage this money by means available only to banks to bolster the economy of the state and cut down on the interest payments and fees that are presently paid to out-of-state financial institutions and other entities. The bank would not engage in retail banking and would not compete with community banks; it would work with community banks to maintain their viability and expand their ability to help create better economic outcomes for Vermonters by partnering with them in projects they would not be able to engage in on their own.
Presently, large public projects are, to a large extent, funded by bonding and other private investment which requires the state to pay interest and fees that often do not get recycled into the local economy. Bond sales are managed by Wall Street firms, which seem to rig everything they can to further enrich themselves. In addition to the fees that they charge for this service, it is possible that they are rigging the process to divert funds that would otherwise be available to the state into their own pockets. While the cost of bonding is relatively cheap now, it will likely increase in the next few years if not sooner and the bond market could dry up. Creating a state bank now and growing it could put us in a position where we can substantially lessen the need to float bonds to fund large public projects.
According to Vermont Public Radio, unofficial results on Wednesday showed the following towns had approved the resolution: Bakersfield, Craftsbury, Enosburg, Marshfield, Montgomery, Montpelier Plainfield, Putney, Randolph, Rochester, Royalton, Ryegate, Tunbridge, Warren, and Waitsfield. The four towns that voted down the measure were: Marlboro, Barnet and Fayston and Greensboro.