There is no need to sequester funds urgently needed by Main Street to pay for Wall Street's malfeasance. Californians can have their cake and eat it too -- with a state-owned bank.
Governor Jerry Brown is aggressively pushing a California state constitutional amendment requiring budget surpluses to be used to pay down municipal debt and create an emergency "rainy day" fund, in anticipation of the next economic crisis.
On the face of it, it is a sensible idea. As long as Wall Street controls America's finances and our economy, another catastrophic bust is a good bet.
But a rainy day fund takes money off the table, setting aside funds we need now to reverse the damage done by Wall Street's last collapse. The brutal cuts of 2008 and 2009 shrank the middle class and gave California the highest poverty rate in the country.
The costs of Wall Street gambling are being thrust on its primary victims. We are given the choice of restoring much-needed services or maintaining austerity conditions in order to pay Wall Street the next time it brings down the economy.
There is another alternative -- one that California got very close to implementing in 2011, before Jerry Brown vetoed the bill. AB750, a bill for a feasibility study for a state-owned bank, passed both houses of the state legislature but the governor refused to sign it. He said the study could be done by the Assembly and Senate Banking Committees in-house; but 2-1/2 years later, no further action has been taken on it.
Having a state-owned bank can substitute for a rainy day fund. Banks don't need rainy day funds, because they have cheap credit lines with other banks. Today those credit lines are at the extremely low Fed funds rate of 0.25%. A state with its own bank can take advantage of this nearly-interest-free credit line not only for emergencies but to cut its long-term financing costs in half.
That is not just California dreaming. There is already a highly successful precedent for the approach. North Dakota is the only state with its own state-owned depository bank, and the only state to fully escape the credit crisis. It has boasted a budget surplus every year since 2008, and its 2.6% unemployment rate is the lowest in the country. Contrast that to California's, one of the highest.