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MADISON, Wis. – The bank/credit union squabble over the tax-exemption, which received spirited air time over Wisconsin Public Radio two weeks ago, is due for another round of discussion in a Milwaukee business publication. Small Business Times, which seized on the U.S. House Ways & Means Committee tax-exemption hearings in tit-for-tat items on its statewide Web site, is now planning a full “Point/Counterpoint” article in its Dec. 9 issue. Both the Wisconsin Credit Union League and the Wisconsin Bankers Association, which took part in the Nov. 2-3 Public Radio talkfest, say they are prepared to contribute white papers defending their positions to appear in Small Business Times. “We don’t take editorial stands and so our role is strictly as a messenger to let both sides present their case,” explained Steve Jagler, executive editor of the publication which lists a subscriber base of 14,000 and a free, statewide Web site audience of 9,000. Jagler said his publication has run several articles over the year on the “friction” between banks and CUs in the state and he noted that a Nov. 4 item on its “Biztimes Daily” Web site discussing the CU position drew angry equal time response from bankers. That turn of events was similar to the Nov. 2-3 debate over the tax-exemption which tracked the House Ways & Means hearings in Washington at which Brett Thompson, president/CEO of the Wisconsin League was a participant. Thompson was also interviewed on WPR Nov. 2 on the hour-long “Joy Cardin Talk Show” during which he was attacked apparently by banker-inspired callers. It was learned that the WBA prior to the show had sent out e-mails to its members suggesting they call in to challenge Thompson. In a next-day turnabout, CU sympathizers were frequent callers during anti-CU remarks by Kurt Bauer, the president/CEO of the WBA aired in a follow-up on the same Cardin show. Despite the negative tone of Bauer’s remarks attacking large CUs “as indistinguishable from banks” and competing unfairly for commercial loans, the League CEO said the WPR debate gave CUs a good forum to present their case. For one thing there was confusion about CUs paying property taxes and that was one area cleared up, said Thompson. Some of the callers expressed dismay at the difficulty in getting bank loans with suggestions they turn to CUs. Thompson acknowledged that the 10 callers during his interview were definitely biased toward banks underscoring the apparently organized campaign staged by the WBA. A spokesman for the WBA, while not commenting on the call-in, said the two-day WPR session devoted to the tax-exemption helped underscore the public’s lack of understanding of the new role of CUs and demonstrated “they are not fulfilling their mission of serving the underserved.” Both the League and WBA said the idea for the program came from WPR staffers and followed a suggestion by a CU listener who said the issue is timely considering the hearings before House Ways and Means. Leo Duran, a producer for the Cardin show, said he could not tell yet whether there was a ratings spike because of the shows but he said the overall reaction was positive. It was uncertain whether it might be repeated, but the issue is one of interest to Wisconsin listeners “in helping them understand their personal finances and investing,” he said. Thompson said he was not surprised at the banker tactics during the WPR show since “we have a history of credit unions being attacked vigorously” in this state. The attacks have stepped up in recent years “on just about everything we do from a regulatory standpoint” and follows new directives by the ABA leadership, said Thompson. Bauer, a veteran lobbyist for the WBA, moved here from Phoenix more than a year and half ago where he headed up the banking trade group in that state building a reputation as an aggressive CU antagonist, much like Howard Headlee, the CEO of the Utah Bankers Association. [email protected]

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