While bank bailouts fatten Wall Street, states continue to battle the credit crisis. In the search for innovative solutions, some political candidates are proposing that states generate their own credit by setting up their own banks.
State budgets for 2010 face the largest shortfalls on record, totaling $194 billion or 28 percent of state budgets; 2011 is expected to be worse. Unemployment has already officially hit 10 percent, and many economists expect it to rise higher. Continued high unemployment will keep state income tax receipts at low levels and increase demand for Medicaid and other essential services states provide. The existing alternatives are spending cuts or tax increases, but both will just serve to make the downturn deeper. When states cut spending, they lay off employees, cancel contracts with vendors, eliminate or lower payments to businesses and nonprofit organizations that provide direct services, and cut benefit payments to individuals. The result is a reduction in overall demand. Tax increases also remove demand, by reducing the amount of money people have to spend.
Amanda Paulson, writing in The Christian Science Monitor, quotes Arturo Pérez, fiscal analyst with the National Conference of State Legislatures, which released its survey of state budget situations in December:
“Unless you’re North Dakota, you’re probably a state that has had some degree of difficulty or crisis involving finances. It’s the worst situation states have faced in decades, perhaps going as far back as the Great Depression in some states.”
“Unless you’re North Dakota” – a state with a sizable budget surplus, and the only state that is adding jobs when other states are losing them. A poll reported on February 13 ranked that weather-challenged state first in the country for citizen satisfaction with their standard of living. North Dakota’s affluence has been attributed to oil, but other states with oil are in deep financial trouble. The big drop in oil and natural gas prices propelled Oklahoma into a budget gap that is 18.5 percent of its general-fund budget. California is also resource-rich, with a $2 trillion economy; yet it has a worse credit rating than Greece. So what is so special about North Dakota? The answer seems to be that it is the only state in the union that owns its own bank. It doesn’t have to rely on a recalcitrant Wall Street for credit. It makes its own.
How Cash Starved States can Create their Own Credit
by Ellen Brown
Hat tip:Global Research, March 3, 2009
“He that will not apply new remedies must expect new evils; for time is the greatest innovator.” Francis Bacon
On February 19, 2009, California narrowly escaped bankruptcy, when Governor Arnold Schwarzenneger put on his Terminator hat and held the state senate in lockdown mode until they signed a very controversial budget.1 If the vote had failed, the state was going to be reduced to paying its employees in I.O.U.s. California avoided bankruptcy for the time being, but 46 of 50 states are insolvent and could be filing Chapter 9 bankruptcy proceedings in the next two years.
One of the four states that is not insolvent is an unlikely candidate for the distinction – North Dakota. As Michigan management consultant Charles Fleetham observed last month in an article distributed to his local media:
“North Dakota is a sparsely populated state of less than 700,000, known for cold weather, isolated farmers and a hit movie – Fargo. Yet, for some reason it defies the real estate cliché of location, location, location. Since 2000, the state’s GNP has grown 56%, personal income has grown 43%, and wages have grown 34%. This year the state has a budget surplus of $1.2 billion!”
What does the State of North Dakota have that other states don’t? The answer seems to be: its own bank. In fact, North Dakota has the only state-owned bank in the nation. The state legislature established the Bank of North Dakota in 1919. Fleetham writes that the bank was set up to free farmers and small businessmen from the clutches of out-of-state bankers and railroad men. By law, the state must deposit all its funds in the bank, and the state guarantees its deposits. Three elected officials oversee the bank: the governor, the attorney general, and the commissioner of agriculture. The bank’s stated mission is to deliver sound financial services that promote agriculture, commerce and industry in North Dakota. The bank operates as a bankers’ bank, partnering with private banks to loan money to farmers, real estate developers, schools and small businesses. It loans money to students (over 184,000 outstanding loans), and it purchases municipal bonds from public institutions.
Still, you may ask, how does that solve the solvency problem? Isn’t the state still limited to spending only the money it has? The answer is no. Certified, card-carrying bankers are allowed to do something nobody else can do: they can create “credit” with accounting entries on their books.