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SALT LAKE CITY – Utah banks are ratcheting up their campaign to win public support to tax credit unions with a letter by the president of Zions Bank, the state’s biggest, sent to state lawmakers urging they look at the tax issue as a means to solve education woes. The letter, citing a CU tax as a handy means of raising needed schools revenue and drafted by Zions President Scott Anderson, follows an attempt to raise the tax-CU issue before a Sept. 5 meeting of the 15-member Utah Board of Education brought by a retired state legislator and director of a Layton bank, Haven J. Barlow. The Utah League of Credit Unions labeled the latest tactic by the banking lobby a “shameful means of hiding behind school children” to pursue a self-serving goal. The League began a series of TV and radio image and “consumer choice” ads outlining CU service roles. A spokesman for the Zions Bank said the Anderson letter “is consistent” with the bank’s long held position that lawmakers, eager to find new sources of education revenue, should “seriously consider” supporting a tax on state-chartered CUs. “These are tax-exempt institutions which no longer act like credit unions but more like banks,” said the spokesman, and thus should be taxed accordingly. The Zions Bank has long clashed with America First Credit Union of Riverdale, the state’s largest, and a few other state CUs over field of membership expansion. The battles waged in the media and political races for Congress trace back to court suits and fights in the state legislature over multi-county expansion and follow the Utah League’s active role in H.R. 1151 in 1999. As a means of reminding the public of how CUs function, the Utah League said it was rolling out a new series of 60-second TV and radio ads Oct. 14 promoting the “consumer choice” message and listing services offered by CUs. The Utah League, which calls the new banking campaign an example of “cowardice” in exploiting the school issue, maintained Barlow is acting as a foil for the Zions Bank since the former state senator has family ties to top executives. Barlow is the uncle of Harris Simmons, the chairman of Zions Bancorp., the parent holding company, and his daughter is married to Anderson. Zions has $25 billion in assets. While taking up the tax issue at an informal hearing, the Utah Education Board made up of retired teachers and educators, said it lacked knowledge about CU or bank operations to weigh in with a judgment about taxing CUs but suggested the matter should properly be brought before the state legislature in January. Barlow had urged the Utah Board tax credit unions as a means of solving a $45 million cut in revenue for the state’s education department. -

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