Project Summary: This project seeks to radically transform our municipal finance system by organizing the communities most impacted by public budget crises around provocative campaigns to renegotiate bad Wall Street deals. The project will engage unions and community organizations around the country to develop and implement strategic corporate social responsibility campaigns to stop banks from using their economic and political power to mislead taxpayers and to win a fair deal for our communities. By focusing on Wall Street as a common national villain, the project aims to turn local budget fights into a national movement to protect vital public services and fix the broken municipal finance system.
Context: The municipal finance system is supposed to exist to serve the public, but Wall Street has converted it into a scheme to privatize public dollars. Instead of using their scarce financial resources to fund essential services like children’s healthcare, our cities and states are forced to pay billions of dollars every year to big banks. Since the start of the economic crisis in 2008, cities and states have been forced to shred the social contract by slashing Medicaid, closing schools, and making cuts to public safety, yet they have faithfully paid Wall Street banks billions of dollars in excess fees and interest. We cannot let our communities’ needs take a back seat to Wall Street greed. It is time to fundamentally change our state and local governments’ relationship with Wall Street.
Provocative Proposition: We need to turn the municipal finance system into a well-regulated public utility, where banks provide financial services to cities and states as a public service rather than treating taxpayer dollars as a profit engine.
Bio: Saqib Bhatti is a corporate campaigner and researcher with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). He has spent several years developing strategic campaigns to hold banks accountable for their role in creating and profiteering off the economic crisis. He plays a critical role in analyzing complex financial issues and then demystifying and translating those issues so they are understandable to people who are not economists or academics. He works closely with local unions and community organizations across the country, building broad-based alliances and coalitions to undertake innovative and creative campaigns that are based on a populist critique of the banking industry. He has written numerous reports calling on banks to do their part to fix the economy, including Riding the Gravy Train: How Wall Street Is Bankrupting Our Public Transit Agencies by Profiteering off of Toxic Swap Deals (2012) and The Win/Win Solution: How Fixing the Housing Crisis Will Create One Million Jobs (2011). His campaigns have been discussed in major publications like the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and Financial Times.
He previously worked for the Culinary Workers Union in Las Vegas, where he researched the gaming industry. Saqib graduated from Yale University in 2004 with a degree in Political Science. His thesis was about the challenges to community organizing in the Muslim community in the United States.