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RANCHO CUCAMONGA, Calif. -Thousands of petitions supporting the tax exempt status for credit unions have already been collected in California and Nevada as credit unions there ramp up efforts to gather signatures. The petition drive is part of a nationwide effort to counteract attempts by the banking industry to eliminate the tax exempt status of credit unions. Signed petitions will be presented to elected state and federal officials in early 2005. “. . . We want to bury elected officials in proof that credit union members care about preserving their credit union and keeping it tax exempt,” said Kelly Purcell, acting director of federal governmental affairs for the California Credit Union League. Since launching the petition drive in September, Purcell reported receiving thousands of online petitions and predicted a deluge of signed hard-copy petitions at the end of the signature gathering campaign. “It’s coming at a really good time right now,” she said of the petition drive spearheaded by CUNA. “It’s helping us to ramp up for next year with an anticipated fight on this issue. So it gets our members educated now and committed to the cause.” The petitions ask lawmakers to “preserve and protect the ability of credit unions to provide an alternative choice for affordable financial services.” “I call upon elected officials to retain credit unions’ not-for-profit, tax-exempt status, recognizing the unique structure and role of credit unions in the financial services marketplace,” the petition states. “I, as a credit union member, firmly believe that a tax on credit unions is a tax on us and 85 million other Americans who belong to credit unions.” At Clark County Credit Union in Las Vegas, members are learning exactly what it would mean if the credit union lost its tax-exempt status. Screen displays in branch lobbies note that the annual bonus dividend of $2.9 million would be slashed by $2 million if the CU were taxed. “This, as you can guess, agitated a number of members,” said Mark Andrews, vice president of sales and marketing. Members also hear a recorded message when on hold about the tax implications. “CCCU members have enjoyed annual bonus dividends for the last four years, totaling more than $10 million,” it says. “Due to wise cost controls and careful investing, your credit union is looking forward to another dividend in January. However, there is a growing threat from government and bankers to take away our non-profit, tax exempt status. “If that happened, there could be a serious negative effect on the amount of your bonus dividend,” it warns. Andrews said the credit union, like many others, was working to address the taxation issue on both the state and federal levels. As an independent candidate for state Assembly in November, Andrews said he constantly discusses the taxation issue on the campaign trail. “Even if I’m not elected, the voters will have heard about our taxation concerns, as well as the other candidates in both Senate and Assembly throughout the southern part of the state,” he said. “Whichever candidates of both major parties end up elected to go to the session in Carson City in February will have already heard from me several times about protecting our tax-exempt status.” At March Community Credit Union in Moreno Valley, Calif., online Web site links to the petition as well as in-branch petitions are getting strong member support. Mailings have also gone out in statements to the CU’s nearly 37,000 members and the issue has been discussed in the CU’s quarterly newsletter. Employees were also briefed about the petition drive so they could answer questions from members. A table may be set up in the larger Moreno Valley branch to gather additional signatures. “Many of our members were around for H.R. 1151 and we responded very well to that,” said Charlie Hale, vice president of marketing. “I will say the petitions/letters have a significant impact.” Hale said CUs can not match the expenditures of the banking industry lobbying on the taxation issue. “There’s no way we can compete, to go head-to-head . but we certainly can marshal the members,” he said. -

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