WHY LOS ANGELES SHOULD START A PUBLIC BANK

By: Harold Meyerson, Los Angeles Times. Harold Meyerson is executive editor of the American Prospect. He is a contributing writer to Opinion.

With all that’s at stake in the midterm elections, Los Angeles voters would be forgiven for overlooking Charter Amendment B, a referendum that would amend the city charter to conform with an ordinance the City Council enacted earlier this year.

But Charter Amendment B is no municipal snoozer. It proposes the most fundamental change to our economic system that Angelenos have ever had the opportunity to vote on. The amendment would allow for the creation of a Bank of Los Angeles: a public bank to be operated by and for the city.

Currently, when L.A. collects tax revenue, that revenue does not immediately flow back out to pay city employees. Instead, the revenue is deposited into one of several mega-banks, to be withdrawn when the city needs the funds. This spring, the city’s portfolio came to $9.5 billion. We’re not talking chicken feed.

L.A. has already withdrawn its funds from Wells Fargo, whose steady stream of abusive and fraudulent practices compelled the bank to pay billions in fines in recent years. But the alternatives — the other Wall Street behemoths that brought us the 2008 crash and saddled us with the Great Recession — also have a deference to shareholders and commitment to bonuses that exceed any interest they may have for the well-being of L.A.

Last year, a group of concerned Angelenos who’d formed an advocacy organization, Public Bank LA, began talking to the City Council about establishing a municipal bank. They pointed to North Dakota, which since 1919 has had a state-owned bank that is used to make loans to businesses and farms.

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