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Big Banks Vs. Democracy: An Update on Public Banking in Vermont

This month, Vermont residents showed widespread support during their annual town meetings for the adoption of a state bank in Vermont.

This week, the Vermont State Senate Finance Committee heard testimony about the bill that was endorsed by the vast majority of Vermont towns.

The Public Banking Institute reports the following:

…on March 18, the Vermont Senate Finance Committee heard testimony on S. 204, the bill that would grant the Vermont Economic Development Authority a banking license and direct 10% of the Treasurer’s bank deposits to VEDA for investment in Vermont. Curiously, in light of the overwhelming support for a state bank displayed in the results of the town meetings campaign, the Barre Montpelier Times-Argus called the proposal “politically unpopular” — and offered no contextual explanation for that description.

A press release from Vermonters for a New Economy offered a clue to the source of the proposal’s alleged “unpopularity,” pointing out that “opposition to the legislation is well-represented on the schedule of [Senate Finance Committee] testimony – Chris D’Elia from the Bankers Association and the Deputy Treasurer are listed, who both oppose the bill, along with Senator Anthony Pollina, one of the bill’s main supporters. No representatives from the public, from the 18 cities and towns who passed a resolution directing the legislature to establish a public bank, or from Vermonters for a New Economy were invited to testify.”

“It is clear that the bank lobby has a lot more traction in the State House than the cities, towns, and the citizens,” said Gwendolyn Hallsmith, one of the founders of Vermonters for a New Economy, and the new Executive Director of the Public Banking Institute, a national organization devoted to facilitating the establishment of public banks on the local, regional, state, and national level.

Vermont Town Meetings are not just another opinion poll, they are deliberative democracy at work. However, legislative committee hearings are the home turf of lobbyists. This is an opportunity for the Vermont legislature to show the citizens of Vermont who they really serve. This is also an opportunity for Vermont to show the nation what New England democracy is really all about.

What might a state public bank look like? Check out this post for more details.

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