State Sen. Hasegawa pushes for public bank, organizational change at city hall

Year in and year out, few things have been more reliably consistent in Olympia than the efforts of state Sen. Bob Hasegawa to pass legislation that would establish a state bank in Washington.

Thus far, those attempts to create what would be the second bank of its kind in the U.S. (after North Dakota) have come up short.

The longtime resident of Beacon Hill is now thinking a bit smaller. But the role he’s seeking comes with much larger weight.

Last month, Hasegawa announced he would enter the crowded field for mayor of Seattle, with plans for a municipal bank at the heart of his platform.

“It would allow us to fund a lot of these proposals that they keep having to go to the voters for to increase the taxes,” he said. “It would generate revenue for the city, so we wouldn’t have to keep going to that regressive well. We could do it internally within our own means.”

He explained the mechanics in terms of core capital — the amount that establishes the bank — and cash flow. That core capital, he said, can be leveraged safely up to 10, or even 12 times.

“Say we have a core capital amount of $100 million,” he said. “That’s a billion worth of lending capacity. What can we finance with a billion dollars? We can finance construction of so much affordable housing — public housing — we could pave sidewalks in the north end, we can help build schools, we can do all kinds of good stuff with that kind of leveraging capacity, so it would not only make money in the interest that’s being repaid on these loans, but we would leverage the work that our tax revenues could do. It’s an amazing thing.”

Those potential uses for the revenue generated by a bank underlie the 11th District senator’s broader policy goals if elected.

He believes there are several different strategies that can be implemented to deal with the city’s housing squeeze, from building public housing, to the community land trust model, communal housing akin to Olympia’s Quixote Village (a supportive community of tiny houses and a larger common building), and tiny house villages like one located in Licton Springs.

“I’m not here to say any one is better than the other, but we should be at least trying all these different models,” he said.

The 64-year old believes the city’s rapid change isn’t being appropriately managed, and wants to revert the decision-making process from a top-down structure to a bottom-up approach, “where neighborhoods are actually engaged.”

That includes funding neighborhood district councils, reversing the decision made by outgoing Mayor Ed Murray last year to dissolve all formal ties between the groups and the city.

“I’d like to see the neighborhood councils become models of neighborhood organizing, and with a budget,” he said, “so if the neighborhood says, ‘We want a community center,’ or, ‘We want to pave sidewalks,’ or whatever their issues are, they get to make the decisions.”

But with those resources would also come responsibility, and that neighborhoods “accept whatever might be their own fair share of the growth the city is facing,” he said.

“I think everybody has a social responsibility to the city, and so it has to be dealt with,” he said. “I’m not the one to say how to deal with it. I think the people can make that decision.”

Hasegawa has also drawn the ire of transit advocates for his criticism of Sound Transit, and his support of efforts to make the transit agency’s board elected, rather than appointed.

Much of his frustration, he said, stems from the agency’s handling of the ST3 ballot measure. In 2015, the Senate approved full funding authorization of $15 billion, while Sound Transit eventually put a $54 billion package on the ballot.

“Once they got this authority, they were like kids in a candy store afterwards,” he said. “They knew they could pass whatever they wanted to pass, so they just blew up the whole package and went for the whole shebang.”

Advocates, meanwhile, say that $15 billion figure assumed a 15-year package, while the one that went to voters was for 25, and that the $54 billion price tag included existing taxes and grants and added expected inflation.  

That said, Hasegawa is adamant that he’s not anti-Sound Transit or ST3, and mentioned that if a municipal bank is implemented, “there’s a possibility that one of the things it can do is refinance Sound Transit 3 in that we might be able to advance the spurs going up to Ballard and West Seattle.”

In a field that includes almost two-dozen candidates, Hasegawa said he brings a distinct viewpoint to the table.

“I have a unique perspective, being a person of color and relating to the diversity issues that the city of Seattle wants to embrace but I think has a difficult time embracing,” he said.

In part because local government is so top-down, he said, there’s “a lack of cultural competence,” in the decision-making process.

To that end, he’s no stranger to institutional overhauls, having served nearly a decade as leader of Teamsters Local 174, the biggest Teamster trucking local union in the Pacific Northwest. In that capacity, he was responsible for nearly 1,000 collective bargaining negotiations, and was one of three negotiators for the national UPS contract, which covered more than 200,000 workers.

“I have all that experience of managing a multi-million dollar organization,” he said. “At the same time, what’s tricky is reverting its political culture from a top-down model to a bottom-up membership driven model. I’ve managed that, transformational organizational change at the same time as making sure that the core functions of the operation were maintained, so I intend to do the same thing at the city of Seattle.”

After Rep. Jessyn Farrell’s resignation from the legislature last week, Hasegawa is the lone candidate in the field that cannot actively fundraise. But it’s a calculus he made entering the race, and said after defeating a multimillionaire in his first run for the state senate five years ago, he’s already shown he can overcome such a gap.

“I just want to show the city that we can do it at the city level now, and defeat this cynicism that people have, that maybe they’ll see there’s hope to grab our democracy back,” he said.

Hasegawa said his strength is in bridge-building, and that he was one of the most successful senators in getting bills passed, noting specifically a bill he introduced last year to allow the commercial growing of industrial hemp, along with a measure to address cultural competency in food health inspections. As mayor, he said he can push progress that could “spiderweb” throughout the state, as an example of what the power of people can accomplish.  

“Standard organizing strategy is if you want to build a movement, you solidify the base first, and then build out, and where’s the base for progressive movements? In Seattle,” he said. “This is where I think we can really start something moving and build it out, hopefully to a national model.”

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