Credit Unions Need to Focus on Priorities Like Banks' Tax Strategies, Not on Divisive Issues
Since the elimination of private share insurance was raised several months back, it has sparked considerable discussion within the credit union movement, as reflected in the op-ed and letters pages of Credit Union Times. While it is heartening to see that many of your readers (and online poll-takers) share CUNA's strongly held view that the option of private share insurance for state-chartered credit unions should be preserved, it is disheartening to see the tremendous division this issue has created within the credit union movement. All this attention on the private insurance option is also overshadowing what in my view is an issue of more immediate and far greater concern to credit unions-the outbreak of state-level bank attacks. These attacks are not just aimed at making adjustments to credit unions' tax status in a given state, but rather they are the first salvo in a broader assault with the goal of taxing credit unions nationally and ultimately driving credit unions out of business. Every credit union, regardless of size or charter type, has reason to be concerned. The divisive debate over private share insurance only leaves us more vulnerable to attacks by the bankers exactly at a time when we need to be unified. CUNA and the movement fighting banks is tough enough, but when we are fighting with each other as well as our traditional adversaries, the division can only result in losses for the entire credit union community. Moreover, some opponents of CU choice on private insurance have been taking the issue beyond the credit union community to Capitol Hill, outside organizations, and the general media. This in my opinion has not been a wise course of action. Our division is put on display for policymakers, and the credit union movement as a whole is placed in a more vulnerable position. Better for arguments about such issues as private insurance to take place internally within the movement until consensus can be reached. The timing of all of this "created division" could not be worse. As Credit Union Times readers know, the bankers are already pushing tax legislation in Utah, Oregon, Iowa, New Mexico and California with others sure to follow, Florida being another recent example of an emerging tax fight. So far, thanks to tremendous lobbying and grassroots work by state credit union leagues and their member credit unions, the attacks have been unsuccessful, though victory has at times come with a price. In Utah, large credit unions saw their member business lending curtailed. In our view the state-level bank attacks are not random; they appear to be part of a coordinated national anti-credit union strategy by the American Bankers Association and state banking associations seeking to exploit escalating budget shortfalls now present in almost every state in the nation. Their strategy, as we've seen so often, is one of divide and conquer-attempts are made to split the movement along the lines of state vs. federal or large vs. small. We fully expect the bankers to stay on the attack. They know one big victory at the state level will help them in other states, and accumulated victories in the states will help them in Washington. The banking lobby will never be satisfied with a victory over only one segment of the credit union movement. As I've indicated, their core objective is to eliminate credit unions as competitors. They will seek to exploit any sign of division or weakness they can find. At times like this, it's more important than ever for credit unions to have a united front in order to defeat new assaults and keep the bankers from gaining any traction with members of Congress or state legislators. The state bank attacks will continue to be a top priority for CUNA and the leagues. CUNA will do whatever is necessary to assist and coordinate with the leagues to defeat the bankers in any given state that comes under fire. We recognize that with these state attacks there is no one-size-fits-all response. In every state, the situation is different, and so has been the required response. That has been the pattern so far and it no doubt will continue. But it will be critical to act quickly when state attacks erupt so that we can derail harmful legislation before it has a chance to take root and garner support. CUNA also will continue to emphasize to credit unions the importance of being politically involved and making full use of the panoply of grassroots programs we've already put in place-Project Differentiation (to delineate the CU difference), Project Zip Code (to tally the number of CU members in a legislator's district), campaign schools (to train CU-friendly candidates) political fundraising, and the nine-step AACUL/CUNA political action plan. All of these programs can be effective at the state level as well as the federal level. On the strength of these programs, league efforts and credit union involvement, the banks' current and future state attacks will hit a brick wall. But again I must repeat that to succeed, credit unions will need to be unified. If we fragment, the wall crumbles and the breach will give our adversaries openings they will be quick to seize upon.. However, I am fully confident credit unions will recognize the nature of the threats now facing us and work together in a united fashion, not only to turn back the bankers, but to effect positive change for the benefit of our members. As one final point, let's all start saying together in unison: "There's no such thing as a tax on credit unions, only another tax on consumers!"