A push is on to introduce public banking in New York state, and start the trend in Rochester.

While a bill to allow municipalities to start their own public banks has floated around for several years, a focus on the Flower City is gaining traction.

What is a public bank? Tousif Ahsan of the New Economy Project says localities currently use large private banks to deposit tax dollars because of the size of those deposits.

“When we’re talking about the need for a public bank, we really want to give local governments the ability to divest from big banks,” he said.

Ahsan argues that a public bank would allow local governments to apply for a charter to create an institution to store its money, one whose investment practices would be grounded by public policy.

“It can leverage those deposits to make loans and deposits like any other bank. The difference is because a public bank is owned by the government and accountable to the people, it would be mission-driven to serve the public’s interests,” he said.

A separate bill would create that public bank in Rochester, the first of its kind in the nation.

Assemblymember Harry Bronson called public banking a “tool” to revitalize cities like Rochester that have faced decades of disinvestment.

“It’s a tool, one that the mayor who supports this bill 100 percent, that the city council supports, a tool that they want so they can invest and create vibrant neighborhoods,” he said.

State Senator Samra Brouk, who also represents a portion of Rochester, said it would help cities reverse the trends set on by racism embedded within policies like redlining and urban renewal.

In addition to financing public projects, it would allow disadvantaged people to take out loans who otherwise have struggled to get them.

“We are changing the decisions being made to make sure that our poorest communities, that our Black and brown communities, that our immigrant communities, that our small cities, are able to thrive,” he said.

While investment decisions would be left to the community that chartered the bank, Ahsan told Spectrum News 1 that the group has hopes for what would come from the bill.

“Instead of investing in gentrification, we would invest in affordable housing. Instead of investing in fossil fuels, we would invest in renewable energy,” he said.

Requests for comment to banking advocates here in New York have so far gone unanswered.