Burlington County Times

Murphy Defends Picks For Public Bank Task Force

Burlington County Times — November 13, 2019

By David Levinsky

Gov. Phil Murphy defended his appointments on Thursday, saying the group of 14 were "talented people" with experience with several of the issues the public bank would seek to address, including the lack of banks in inner cities and difficulties faced by some minority communities and small businesses.

TRENTON — Does a task force charged with examining the creation of a New Jersey public bank need a representative from the banking industry?

Gov. Phil Murphy doesn't believe it does, and he defended his appointments Thursday, saying the group of 14 were "talented people" with experience with several of the issues the public bank would seek to address, including the lack of banks in inner cities and difficulties faced by some minority communities and small businesses.

In concept, a public bank would provide an alternative depository for state, county and local governments' taxes and fees than Wall Street and global banks, which then invest the funds overseas. Murphy has said the state's public bank would use the money to provide "below market rate capital" to New Jersey small businesses and nonprofits, as well as loans to students and for beneficial projects, such as infrastructure improvements and affordable housing.

Murphy said the individuals he appointed were ideally suited to review those capital needs and report back on how a public bank could help address them.

"The community development corporations, community leaders and the folks in our administration who liaised with them are incredibly important in the early stages to get the framework right, in particular in communities of color which are historically underbanked and underserved in the financial institution front, whether they be minority or women-owned small businesses, affordable housing challenges, in some cases infrastructure and student loans," Murphy said Thursday at an unrelated news conference. "So I'm extraordinarily proud of the team we put together."

Murphy formed the task force Wednesday via an executive order. It marked the Democrat's first action to advance what was a signature proposal from his 2017 gubernatorial campaign. He took no questions from the press during an event in Newark commemorating the action.

The task force is being chaired by Marlene Caride, a former state assemblywoman who is now commissioner of the state Department of Banking and Insurance and includes several other members of Murphy's administration, including Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, Treasurer Liz Muoio and Matt Plantkin, the governor's chief counsel.

Four public members were also appointed, including Rutgers professor Williams Rogers and Joan Bartl and Phyllis Salowe-Kaye, the leaders of Banking on New Jersey and New Jersey Citizen Action. Both groups have long advocated for the creation of a public bank in New Jersey.

The fourth public member of the group is Sean Stiller, vice president of the New Jersey Education Association, the state's largest teachers union and a group that has engaged in a high-profile feud with Senate President Stephen Sweeney in the past.

When asked about the task force Thursday, Sweeney reiterated his past skepticism about the public bank proposal but said he was willing to listen to Murphy's arguments in favor of it. The Legislature's approval will likely be required before a public bank could launch.

"I'm willing to listen to what the governor has to say, and we're going to talk about it. But I've been from day one not in favor of a public bank," Sweeney said.

He declined comment on the governor's appointments, responding to a reporter's question by saying: "What do you think?"

Murphy has stressed that a public bank could be a "force for good" in New Jersey and make better use of the billions in government deposits currently being sent to institutions outside the state. North Dakota is the only other state with a public bank, which was formed a century ago.

While the governor defended his appointments, he conceded that it was still very early in the process of getting the proposal off the ground.

"This one still has a long road ahead of us," he said. "It has a long way to go."

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