PUBLIC BANKING WORKS
Philadelphia Revolution

by Mike Krauss, Pennsylvania Public Bank Project

Home to Ben Franklin and the first and successful public bank in America. Home to the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, Washington’s Crossing and Valley Forge, Pennsylvania has long been called the Keystone State, owing to its central role in the birth of the American democracy. To this day it is a “battleground” state in presidential elections.

Now, the Keystone State is stepping up to help make pubic banking and American history. Formed just after the Public Banking Institute, the Pennsylvania Project is leading the way.

From the first, PA Project determined not to try for a state bank bill in the legislature, but instead to focus on municipal and county public banks, building broad support for a state public bank to follow.

First out of the gate was the small City of Reading, population about 88,000 and described in the New York Times in early 2012 as the poorest city in America. But newly elected Mayor Vaughn D. Spencer saw a different future. Two of his aides traveled to the first PBI national conference in Philadelphia, in April 2012, and there met with PBI and PA Project leaders.

But Reading lacked the Tier I capital required by Pennsylvania banking law to form its own bank. So PA Project recruited Rhode Island municipal finance advisor and PBI stalwart Tom Sgouros, who led the study which proposed formation of a municipal finance agency to remove city deposits from Wall Street and spread them among local banks, building towards a public bank.
Said Mayor Vaughn, “The follow through on the part of the Pennsylvania Project team produced the kind of new model we were looking for. This will begin to get our municipal revenue circulating in our city, working with local banks in a new partnership for economic development and job creation.”

Then Philadelphia, Pennsylvania’s largest and the nation’s fifth largest city stepped up. Community leader Stan Pokras facilitated meetings of the first volunteers, and former counsel to City Council, Stan Shapiro, vice chairman of Neighborhood Networks, put together a series of meetings of neighborhood (sic) and community leaders.

A hundred Philadelphia community and neighborhood leaders gathered for a day long workshop last October where our PBI colleague from New York City, Scott Baker walked them through the city’s Consolidated Annual Financial Report (CAFR), to reveal that a city that can’t adequately fund public education is sitting on over $12 billion in investments, some part of which can be used to capitalize a public bank.

A seasoned team has emerged to begin the work of drafting a business plan and legislation for a public bank of Philadelphia. Preparatory discussions are underway with members of City Council, the office of the mayor, the Controller and with business, banking, neighborhood, labor, civic and faith community leaders.

Next up was Luzerne County in the northeast part of the state, population about 320,000. County Council vice chairman Edward Brominski put together a widely reported meeting of county and local elected officials, businesspeople and bankers, and assembled a team that is now planning out the steps to approval of a charter for a local public bank.

And now the public banking message is being heard loud and clear out west in Pittsburgh, where PA Project Advisory Board Chairman John Hemington organized the first public banking meetings back in early 2012.

With the tireless work of retired labor dynamo John Leonard (IBEW) and support from the New Economy Working Group (NEWG), public banking is on the agenda of the newly elected mayor and his policy advisers.

With the help of NEWG organizer JT Campbell, public banking was front and center during a two day New Economy Celebration a few weeks ago in that city. PA Project Chair Mike Krauss shared a stage and panel discussions with New Economy national leader and public banking advocate Gar Alperovitz, and put out the message to over 150 enthusiastic community and neighborhood leaders. Mike, John Hemingway and John Leonard presented a public banking workshop.

Since then PBI founder Ellen Brown has been interviewed on a major Pittsburgh radio station and Mike Krauss will follow in May. The local leadership is organizing a formal briefing for the mayor’s policy team.

Like PBI, PA Project is growing and changing to carry this work forward. There is a new and lively web site (www.publicbankingpa.org ) and exciting additions to the Advisory Board, including two very senior bankers, Dr. Emma C Chappell of Philadelphia and Jeffrey D. Beck of Luzerne County.

Dr. Chappell was the first woman and African American to be senior vice president of a Philadelphia bank, and later founded and for ten years was Chairman of the Board, President and CEO of United Bank, a full service community bank. Jeff Beck was CEO and Director of Advanta Bank Corp (Salt Lake City) and Advana National Bank (Wilmington, Delaware) and has led the management of $15 billion in bank assets.

They will soon be joined on the Advisory Board by JT Campbell, Cait Lamberton, Associate Professor in the Katz Business School of the University of Pittsburgh, Frank S. Archibald, retired from the faculty at Penn State University, and Philly’s Stan Shapiro.
Vanya Tyrrell is the treasurer and a director of PA Project. The first woman ever to serve as chair of one of Bucks County’s major authorities (suburban Philadelphia, population about 630,000), owner of a two office, 15 person accounting firm and campaign treasurer for a former Democratic member of Congress, she knows her way around Pennsylvania politics and sees it this way: “With the continued support and leadership of PBI, and with strong local leadership heading up public banking efforts across our commonwealth, we believe Pennsylvania will live up to its history as the Keystone State, and help make public banking the Second American Revolution.”

article by Mike Krauss, PBI Board of Directors and Pennsylvania Public Bank Project