SALT LAKE CITY – The banker-friendly leadership of the Utah Legislature has picked the author of the state's tough new law restricting credit union business lending, Rep. Jeff Alexander, as co-chairman of the new Financial Institutions Task Force to study CU taxation. Alexander, a Provo Republican and the House Majority Whip, has been a sharp critic of CU branch and business expansion in the state, often echoing the line of the Utah Bankers Association that large CUs "are acting like commercial banks" and their activities need to be curbed. The appointment of Alexander comes as the three large Utah CUs, directly impacted by the business loan curb effective May 5, moved ahead with conversion for a federal charter by making application to NCUA's Region Six office in Concord, Calif. The three include: America First Credit Union of Riverdale, the state's largest; Mountain America CU of Salt Lake City and Goldenwest CU of Ogden. The management of all three have complained that operating under what they described as a hostile environment in Utah with banks in control of the state legislature and the prospect of a tax imposition in a year or two has led them to seek the federal option. However, only Mountain America has made its firm plans publicly known with both America First and Goldenwest maintaining that they are "keeping options open" on final conversion. The NCUA confirmed it received charter conversion applications from the three CUs within the last month and half, and they could be processed within 60-90 days. Copies were also sent to the Utah Department of Financial Institutions from NCUA Region Six Director Robert E. Blatner. Mountain America has said it is seeking a "SEG-only" federal charter rather than a community vehicle, a fact which might speed the application process. The UBA has threatened to challenge perhaps in a court suit the federal conversion applications before NCUA, but CU executives have stressed the banker group would lack standing. Meanwhile, the new legislative financial institution task force on taxing CUs could begin work in May with Alexander, the co-chairman and the CU foe already calling on Congress to act now in halting liberal regulatory policies of NCUA on field of membership. The agency, he charged, "makes up their own rules as they go along," adding to a Credit Union Times reporter, "you tell me if the NCUA is ever objective" when it comes to favoring CUs. Alexander, a printer in Provo, expressed astonishment at the lobbying tactics of CUs adding the state "needs a total overhaul of its statutes" dealing with CUs and banks in light of "how credit unions operate differently" in today's environment. The new chairman of the Utah League, Steven Christensen, called the Alexander appointment unfortunate "since we know what side he will be on and since he is not a neutral thinker and was the individual who wanted to put through the tax bill." Christensen, who also is president of Toelle Federal CU, said he was not surprised at the selection since the House leadership led by Marty Stephens, a Zions Bank vice president had led the tax cause on behalf of the Utah Bankers Association and Zions top management. The Senate leadership is expected to name a task force co-chairman from that chamber by April 4. Other members of the Task Force include five Republican representatives and two Democrats. The Republicans include Reps. LaVar Christiansen, Sandy; Brad Dee, Ogden; Wayne Harper, West Jordan; and Michael Noel, Kanab. The two Democrats are: Scott Daniels and Jackie Biskupski, both of Salt Lake City. -

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