APPLETON — If you’ve ever written a check to the Maine State Treasurer’s Office, you may be surprised to learn that it was deposited in a privately owned bank. In the state treasurer’s pooled cash account report, we find that Maine deposits funds in private banks in other states as well as in Canada, France, Japan and the Netherlands.

States are able to earn higher returns in public banks than in private banks. Public banks are owned by local, state or national governments, whose depositors are government agencies. According to the Maine state treasurer’s cash report, recent average annual investment yield was 0.72 percent. In contrast, the state-owned Bank of North Dakota saw an annual return of 17.1 percent in 2015, according to its annual report. None of North Dakota’s cash is deposited out of state.

Public banks reduce the cost of roads, schools and public works by reducing debt service. They also stabilize property values, expand money supply, increase regional demand, grow local business and raise bank profitability without harming local banks. Local private North Dakota banks are much more profitable than Maine banks.

About 75 percent of the Maine state treasurer’s cash pool is invested in out-of-state institutions without Maine branches, 15 percent in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which collapsed, were put into conservatorship and got rescued during the 2008 financial panic aftermath. Authorities levied millions of dollars in fines against them. Could they fail again? Taxpayers may wonder why their tax money is invested in such institutions.

Under Dodd-Frank, creditors can seize deposits to pay bank debts if too-big-to-fail banks do fail, risking confiscation of 15 percent of the state treasurer’s cash pool, which is invested in too-big-to-fail banks. Wrongdoing has resulted in these banks’ facing billions of dollars in penalties. Why are Maine funds being invested in organizations that committed malfeasance?

Loans from a Maine state-owned bank could renovate vacant properties; develop green, resource-based farming, forestry, fisheries, conservation, aquaculture, ecotourism, clean energy and recreation enterprises; provide working capital, infrastructure and business incubation financing; reduce the number of foreclosures, and furnish capital to refinance loans that raise economic activity, at lower rates. A Maine state-owned bank could finance medical, dental and health enterprises, reduce downturn risks and become a bankers’ bank.


Public banks could offer low-rate college debt refinancing, lessening stresses incurred before recessions reduced job opportunities; increase family incomes; reduce inequality; lower loan delinquency rates, and capitalize renewable energy projects that ease climate change. A state-owned bank could increase credit ratings while adding revenues to pay state debts by raising business activity.

A state-owned bank could improve livelihoods; enable enterprises to produce goods and provide services; build socially responsible organizations; issue emergency disaster loans; increase community wealth, and strengthen living standards, because of a little-known fact: Banks create money when lending, and extinguish money when loans are reimbursed.

By depositing 75 percent of its cash out of state for an annual return of under 1 percent, Maine helps other states’ economies grow at its own citizens’ expense, while North Dakota obtains a 17 percent-per-year return growing its own economy. Because of this, many of North Dakota’s socioeconomic metrics have surpassed Maine’s.

Between 2008 and 2014, North Dakota had the only growing state economy and, compared to Maine, higher personal incomes, greater educational spending growth per capita, better credit ratings, higher property values, more community banks, greater per capita financing assets, and lower rates of foreclosure, bankruptcy, loan delinquency and unemployment.

Previous Maine public bank bills have stalled because proponents failed to make an adequate case, while critics gave fallacious testimonies. The theory that North Dakota’s oil and gas boom was the reason for the success of its state-owned bank proved to be false when that bank increased its profits for the 12th consecutive year, despite collapsing oil prices.

Reduced opportunities from many Maine mill closings have degraded people’s livelihoods in recent years. Declines could be reversed by investing state cash in a state-owned bank that would finance local enterprises.

When cash is deposited in a bank, savers are loaning it to an institution, but not creating new money. New currency can enter the economy, either in Maine or out of state, when banks lend. Most of the Maine treasurer’s cash pool is being saved elsewhere, yielding almost no annual returns. North Dakota has shown us that, by lending locally, a state-owned bank can return over 17 percent annually and help its own citizens instead of the outside world.

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