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Banking for California's Future

AB 750, California’s bill to study the feasibility of establishing a state-owned bank that would receive deposits of state funds, has passed both houses of the legislature and is now on the desk of Governor Jerry Brown awaiting his signature.

It could be the governor’s chance to restore the state to its former glory. As noted in TIME Magazine:

[I]n the 1950s and ‘60s, California was a liberal showcase. Governors Earl Warren and Pat Brown responded to the population growth of the postwar boom with a massive program of public infrastructure—the nation’s finest public college system, the freeway system and the state aqueduct that carries water from the well-watered north to the parched south. 

But that was before Proposition 13, a California constitutional amendment enacted by voter initiative in 1978. Prop 13 limited real property taxes to one percent of the full cash value of the property and required a two-thirds majority in both legislative houses for future increases of any state tax rates.

Prop 13 radically reduced the tax base, and as economist Michael Hudson observes, it is too late to raise property taxes now. The tax savings simply drove property prices up, getting capitalized into additional debt service to the banks. Today, he says, “so much urban property is sinking into negative equity territory that a rise in property taxes will lead to even more foreclosures and abandonments, and hence even lower fiscal returns.”

Meanwhile, the state is struggling to meet its budget with a vastly shrunken tax base. What it needs is a new source of revenue, something that won’t squeeze consumers, homeowners, or local business.
A state-owned bank can provide that opportunity. North Dakota, the one state that currently has its own bank, is the only state to be in continuous budget surplus since the banking crisis began. North Dakota’s balance sheet is so strong that it recently reduced individual income taxes and property taxes by a combined $400 million and is debating further cuts. It also has the lowest unemployment rate, lowest foreclosure rate and lowest credit card default rate in the country, and it hasn’t had a bank failure in at least the last decade.

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