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The elections are now just days away, but no matter how the political landscape changes as a result, there is a consistent political imperative for credit unions: we must stay as strong and outspoken, committed and active, and focused in defending our movement’s tax status as we were this last year. We have made superb use of the opportunities that were unique to an election year to successfully draw the attention of lawmakers to the reasons our tax status is valid. This is an objective we knew we needed to pursue head on, not duck down and let these discussions go on without us. We couldn’t permit the bankers to own the whole show. Our constant work against that outcome has established a strong educational groundwork for rational discussions. Now our efforts must be a continuum; our work ahead must flow seamlessly from the hard work of this last year. We must continue to bring lawmakers and policymakers a message that is unmistakably firm and unfalteringly clear: Increasing taxes on credit unions and their members is unwarranted. Credit unions have tax-exempt status because they are not-for-profit, cooperatively owned, and democratically operated institutions whose boards operate on a volunteer basis. Banks do not have tax-exempt status because they are for-profit corporations, their boards get paid and they owe their allegiance to stockholders, not customers. And that’s okay. It is terrific that consumers have a choice. And we must do everything we can to make sure they continue to have that choice. We must take every occasion and every forum to show that the effort to increase taxes on credit unions and their members is being pushed by groups with ulterior motives that are contrary to good public policy, not to mention the interests of the American consumer. The hypocrisy of the bankers is galling. They endlessly vie for increased tax breaks for the banking industry, with its run of record-breaking profits, while urging Congress to increase taxes on not-for-profit credit unions. We must make sure the question is asked: Is funding tax breaks for banks by placing an increased burden on the backs of credit union members really good policy? The answer is a resounding “no.” It is also imperative as we look to the year ahead that we acknowledge the threat to our tax status is real and ongoing. Our efforts to educate legislators and other policy makers about the credit union difference resulted in stellar words of praise and support from both George W. Bush and John Kerry-as well as many other key government officials. But we cannot be distracted by praise from high places and forget that the chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee has called for an examination of the tax status of certain not-for- profits-credit unions included. Nor will our construction of a framework for rational discussion of the tax issue put an end to the bankers’ spurious attacks. It is in fact probably too much to think the bankers will regain a sense of perspective. How can they put “fighting credit unions” just behind-and not by much-”fighting terrorism” on their list of “super-priorities” (and until recently CUs ranked ahead of fighting terrorism on the ABA list). How can they justify offering expensive rewards to bank employees as incentive for “grassroots” testimonials? What are they thinking when they offer a bounty for pictures of “opulent” CU settings, as if any such pictures could offset the depths of commitment CUs have to their members? But such balance is not appearing on the horizon. New ABA leadership has vowed its commitment to Operation Credit Union despite advice from former banking regulators and a former trade group leader that the industry should back off its losing campaign. Upon leaving the constraints of their posts, former Comptroller of the Currency John Hawke, former FDIC Chairman William Seidman, and former trade group exec Kenneth Guenther have advised bankers to stop trying to tax credit unions. They’ve said (as we have) banks would be better off putting their efforts into more productive purposes, such as better serving their customers. And yet I hear reports that, during their annual “fly-in” to Washington to talk to lawmakers, some bankers spent about 30 out of 35 valuable minutes complaining about credit unions, and five minutes on all other issues. I’m sure this was not atypical. The bankers have wasted a lot of peoples’ time and efforts, not only within our movement, but also on Capitol Hill and in State Houses across the country. But they have also done an astonishing job of making the CU movement more driven than it has ever been in getting out our message about the credit union difference. They also set the stage for us to tell lawmakers how politically unpopular any increase in our taxes would be and how strongly it is opposed by the very grassroots of our movement. If bankers continue their level of assault, which they promise and pledge to do, we must not relent in our efforts to educate policymakers and the public about the credit union difference. The backbone of our movement is access to affordable financial services for all members of society on a not-for-profit basis. It is why we merit an exemption from federal income tax. The motivating force behind commercial banks is profit, a concern that for them can override service. The gulf between the two approaches to financial services forms such a divide that identical treatment for both does not make good policy.

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