Banks blindsided by Fed cut in highway bill

The banking industry is scrambling to kill a provision in the Senate highway-funding bill that would reap billions of dollars in revenue by cutting a century-old system that has reaped annual awards for banks.

Industry lobbyists say they were blindsided by the inclusion of the provision, which would help policymakers cover the bill’s cost by cutting the regular dividend the Federal Reserve pays to its member banks. …

When banks join the Federal Reserve system, they are required to buy stock in the central bank equal to 6 percent of their assets. However, that stock does not gain value and cannot be traded or sold, so to entice banks to participate, the Fed pays out a 6 percent dividend payment.

The Senate proposal says it would slash that “overly generous” payout to 1.5 percent for all banks with more than $1 billion in assets. While the summary language outlining the proposal said that change would only impact “large banks,” industry advocates argued that banks most would identify as small community shops could easily have assets in excess of that amount.