SALEM, Ore. – Hoping to head off any state legislation that would impose taxes on credit unions, officials from credit unions throughout Oregon held a special one-day rally at the capitol to lobby lawmakers. The gathering on June 26 came just one day before the Oregon Legislature was scheduled to begin discussions on overhauling the state's tax system, including the imposition of a state sales tax. The Lobby Day activity which focused solely on the taxation issue was a first for the association. The association each year holds its "Credit Union Day at the Capitol," which gives credit union officials a chance to meet with legislators on various topics. That event is usually held in February. Oregon is one of five states without a general retail sales tax. It has been rejected by Oregon voters nine times in the past. Other taxation proposals could be forthcoming when the House Revenue Committee begins its public hearings and looks for ways to shore up the state's ailing 2003-2005 budget. The budget year began July 1. Other budget negotiations are going on behind closed doors. Faced with a budget shortfall estimated at upwards of $1 billion over the next two years, lawmakers are looking at cutting services and raising taxes to make up the deficit. Although the idea of taxing credit unions has not yet been raised, credit union officials hope their lobbying efforts on Wednesday (June 26) will quash any plans to bring such a measure to the table. "It's a constant education process," said Pam Leavitt, vice president of governmental affairs and public relations for the Credit Union Association of Oregon (CUAO) which sponsored the event. The day-long program was aimed at explaining to legislators why credit unions enjoy their tax-exempt status and to insure that lawmakers didn't look at taxing the institutions as a way to make up for the budget shortfalls. Credit union officials also e-mailed and telephoned lawmakers to make their positions known. "Overall it was very positive," Leavitt said. "I feel pretty good about where we are right now." She said legislators were told about the credit union "difference." "Credit unions are the only real financial alternative to the for-profit banking industry, and Oregon credit unions will continue to protect the consumers' right to choose by defending our not-for-profit tax structure," she said. Leavitt said that while a few legislators questioned the "fairness" of the credit union tax exemption, the majority of lawmakers said they supported the credit union position. More than 100 credit union leaders, members and supporters participated in "Lobby Day at the Capitol," according to CUAO. Lawmakers told them to remain politically active and vigilant. Leavitt said the day was a success. "It was really a positive day," she said. "`Lobby Day at the Capitol' was a success because of the grassroots efforts of our dedicated credit union supporters. Our member credit unions and volunteers need to be commended for culminating at the capitol with less than a week's notice. This is a true testament to their support of the credit union movement." The theme for Lobby Day – "Oregon's Credit Unions: Strengthening Communities Together" – was the same as the one used during February's "Credit Union Day." The Lobby Day at the Capitol began at 9 a.m. with an overview of the current situation, followed by Senate and House floor sessions at 10:30 a.m. In the afternoon, credit union supporters met with their local legislators. Some 1.3 million Oregon residents are members of credit unions, according to the association. -

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