WASHINGTON – There was no mistaking the Independent Community Bankers of America's goal on Capitol Hill last week: "Enough is Enough." Nearly 300 of the trade association's members descended on the Hill last week wearing buttons declaring "Enough is Enough" with a red circle-and-slash over "Unfair Credit Union Expansion." Though an ICBA press release said the bankers plan to discuss many legislative issues, "the increasing number of large, commercial bank-like credit unions using their tax-exempt status and extremely liberal field of membership rules to compete aggressively for virtually any community bank customer, including small businesses" was a top priority "It's time that Congress recognizes the rapidly growing number of giant credit unions that have abandoned their original nonprofit missions, yet still don't pay taxes," ICBA President and CEO Camden R. Fine said. "ICBA says enough is enough! These credit unions have abandoned the missions for which they were originally chartered and are trying to be commercial banks without the regulatory or tax obligations that come with being a commercial bank." According to ICBA, Congress should re-examine "mega" credit unions' tax-exempt status, study the impact of "increasingly liberal" field of membership rules, and reject the expansion of "mega" credit unions' business lending authority. ICBA members were in town last week for their annual Joint Committee Meetings May 8 through 12. "It's unfortunate that the bankers continue to try to take away consumers' right to choose in financial services," CUNA Senior Vice President of Governmental Affairs John McKechnie said of ICBA's efforts. In doing so, they are attacking consumers, he highlighted. In response, McKechnie said CUNA lobbyists have been communicating with members of Congress that despite all the "whining" about credit union competition, it does not seem to be hurting banks' bottom line. He said the bankers will have to defend their claim that they need "protection from the credit union movement when they are doing so exceptionally well right now." The banks have been reporting record profits in recent years. ICBA pointed out that a recent General Accounting Office study found that large CUs are the fastest growing portion of the credit union industry and do not have to comply with "the heavy regulatory burdens community banks shoulder." Additionally, the Congressional Budget Office recently reported that the federal government would forego more than $12 billion in federal taxes over the next 10 years due to credit unions' tax exemption. Additionally, last week, several representatives from the banking industry and their trade associations were given the opportunity to discuss regulatory relief for themselves at a hearing entitled "Cutting Through the Red Tape: Regulatory Relief for America's Community-Based Banks" in the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit. ICBA Chairman Dale Leighty, chairman and president of First National Bank of Las Animas (Colo.), was scheduled to testify, as were representatives from the American Bankers Association, America's Community Bankers, the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, Treasury, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, among others. NAFCU Director of Legislative and Political Affairs Brad Thaler predicted that the bankers would spend some of their time attacking credit unions in the hearing. "I would hope that community bankers would use that time wisely to say what they would need for regulatory relief and not spend their time attacking credit unions and we continue to communicate to members of Congress the need that credit unions have for regulatory relief. We don't think it's doing anyone good to get in food fights back and forth between the groups." He added that House Financial Services Committee Chairman Mike Oxley (R-Ohio) and Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit Subcommittee Chairman Spencer Bachus (R-Ala), who was just honored with ICBA's first Main Street Hero Award, are not interested in that either. Thaler may have been caught somewhat by surprise. ICBA did not include credit unions in their prepared oral statements before the committee, and there was only a brief mention of credit unions' growth, tax exemption, and unfair competitive advantage in their more detailed written testimony. The American Bankers Association testimony was similar in that regard. However, America's Community Bankers did not disappoint. In his statement to the committee, Litchfield (Conn.) Bancorp President and CEO Mark E. Macomber raised the issue of credit unions' tax exemption. He urged the committee members to support Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) in his efforts to hold hearings on certain non-profits tax-exempt status. A statement from ACB and Macomber read, "A primary burden for many community banks is that they pay taxes but compete against a new breed of credit unions that operate as full service banks that do not pay taxes to support federal, state or local governments." Recognizing that the subcommittee does not have jurisdiction over taxes, Macomber said, it can control expansion of credit union authorities. "Correcting that inequity," he said, "either by taxing bank-like credit unions or giving community banks tax relief, and ensuring appropriate safety and soundness practices in bank-like credit unions, should be a high priority for Congress." ACB also devoted one-and-a-half pages of its eight-page written testimony to credit unions. [email protected]

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