SAN ANTONIO- An impassioned call to political activism was the recurring theme throughout the two-and-a-half hour delegate session at the Texas Credit Union League’s 70th Annual Meeting & Expo. The League’s chairman, CEO, several committee chairmen and special guests cited political advocacy as a top priority. TCUL Chairman of the Board Watt Prichard called on credit unions to present a united front and to be involved in communicating with legislators and the public through tools such as Project Differentiation, Project Zip Code, and Hike the Hill. Referring to Texas Bankers Association’s recently published plan to seek taxation of large credit unions, Prichard said bankers are now waging war on credit unions not only on a national basis, but also within the state. He said he personally was aware of small credit unions that had received letters from community banks wanting them to rally against large credit unions. “Your commitment and involvement is critical,” Prichard said. “Let’s not let anyone dictate our future.” TCUL President/CEO Dick Ensweiler said TCUL’s legislative efforts in 2003 were very successful, and somewhat unexpected because of the antagonistic climate that existed due to congressional redistricting. The League fought for, and received, full funding of the Texas Credit Union Department, a TCUD modernization bill, and home equity reform legislation. But, he said, credit unions could see “the worst of times” if they do not remain politically involved. The Texas Legislature currently is in a special session to address state funding of public education, and according to Ensweiler, they will be pressured by bankers to consider credit union taxation. The League’s stated legislative priorities for 2004 and beyond are to prevent taxation of credit unions and prevent a division of credit unions, large versus small. TCUL has developed the following guidelines to facilitate their implementation: 1) Set our own agenda; 2) Stay politically involved; 3) Remain united; 4) Put our members first; and 5) Tell our story. “We cannot remain as bystanders, we must be players,” Ensweiler stressed. “I’m proud to announce, though, that in the last couple of days, as a result of the backlash received from Texas Bankers Association’s animosity toward credit unions, the credit union attack stuff has come off TBA’s website.” With the increase in comments about credit union taxation being made by bankers, and in turn legislators, CUNA President/CEO Dan Mica felt it imperative to address TCUL Annual Meeting attendees. In a videotaped speech, Mica issued Texas credit unions a “serious” request for support of CUNA and Texas League efforts in combating bankers’ misinformation campaign with legislators. “I’m not sure anyone realizes how wide, deep and perverse the bankers’ attacks are. We will be calling on you for a very direct, loud, and vociferous effort this election year,” said Mica. “We didn’t start the battle, but we’re going to finish it. We deserve the status we’ve been given. We are the good guys, we wear the white hats,” he said. “Their tactics are already backfiring. We already have a letter from President Bush that says he does not support taxation of credit unions. Senator John Kerry also has stated that he is not in favor of taxing credit unions, so we have the support of both presidential candidates.” NCUA Board Chairman Dennis Dollar told participants that taxation of credit unions could present safety and soundness issues as a result of taxes coming out of credit union retained earnings. Dollar urged credit unions to continue communication with legislators, stating that many are beginning to understand that credit unions may look like banks, but their not-for-profit structure makes them uniquely different. Goals for funding the TCUL Political Action Committee will ramp up significantly beginning in 2005, according to Committee Chair Ayn Kleiber. In 2003, $175,000 was raised to fund lawmaker election campaigns; for 2004 the goal is $195,000; and in 2005, TCUL PAC is shooting for $300,000 annually. The League’s Member/Owner Advocacy FORCE, which channels funds toward such projects as political analysis and research, also feels a heightened sense of urgency to prepare for bankers’ attacks on credit unions, according to FORCE Committee Chair Gary Davis. The fund received a boost for its efforts as a result of a $55,000 contribution at the Annual Meeting by Southwest Corporate Federal Credit Union. Outside the political arena, TCUL president/CEO Dick Ensweiler reported that 2003 was TCUL’s best year financially in the past 15 years. In addition to battling banker attacks, the League will place greater emphasis on shared branching, Hispanic outreach and financial education over the next year. At the meeting, delegates also unanimously approved the 2005 League Dues Schedule. -

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