The Magnificent and the Mundane from CUNA's GAC

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Here's how the trip to Washington for CUNA's GAC began. Arrived at Washington Reagan airport to see the video monitors in the luggage area displaying a teaser for "SEGs In The City." A credit union spin-off from the HBO series? No. It was an ad for Segway scooters that are available for rent. But here's the Twilight Zone moment: standing next to me at the same time was a woman holding a bag from F.O.M. Travel.

If you didn't make it to D.C. last week, where it snows indoors year-round but last week outdoors as well, here's what else you missed...The Herb Wegner Awards began with a stirring tribute to credit union employees and volunteers currently deployed by the military overseas, including photos of them on duty. Included among the eloquent remarks by Wegner winner Cliff Rosenthal was this: "We are stewards of cooperative wealth. Of hard-won, painstakingly built, cooperative wealth. Let us keep this in mind when we see our colleagues try to convert credit unions to banks...Former heavyweight boxing champion Larry Holmes made a surprise opening address to GAC, and offered this hard-hitting advice: there's no need to buy a George Foreman grill when all you need to do is tip the pan to drain the grease. On the same theme, Holmes said of that a bank victory against credit unions could be summed up as, "If it comes down to you eating and them eating, you ain't gonna eat..." Among the comments offered by Federal Reserve Gov. Mark Olsen was that the Fed is hearing that credit quality is about as good as credit quality can be, and that more financial institutions are setting aside greater allowances for loan losses. Later, in a classic Fed euphemism, Olsen said of raising rates that the time was coming for "removing the accommodation..."

Many in attendance at one session got their first look at the quirky and creative commercials created by Utah's credit unions around the "You" theme, as in credit unions exist for "you." The spots seem ideal for syndication, and other credit unions and leagues ought to investigate picking them up for rebroadcast and rebranding in their markets. The sale would also bring some income to the Utah League as it battles the most determined and aggressive bankers of any state. And speaking of what we shall now call You-tah, the latest proposal in that state's legislature relative to credit unions would allow anyone to have a list of the membership for mailing purposes (see related item, page 17). While the league is downplaying the reasons behind such a request, You-tah's CUs should know a similar proposal became law in Australia, and was used by rivals to pitch members on the idea of demutualizing the credit union...Rep. Paul Kanjorski (D-PA) and co-sponsor of HR 1151 made a surprise appearance at Credit Union House where the Pennsylvania Room was being officially dedicated after that state's CUs raised $130,000 for naming rights (the only unnamed rooms left at CU House, by the way, are the six bathrooms). Kanjorski made it through the snow from his northeastern Pennsylvania district, as did fellow Pennsylvanian Benjamin Franklin, who was remarkably spry for a man of 300. But a no-show was Betsy Ross. That just shows what happens when someone gets stars in their eyes...

Rep. Sherman Bachus of Alabama expressed some concerns over the mergers among banks and credit unions, especially the loss of personal service. As for any bank-backed legislation, Bachus said, "I can't believe that they believe that thing as a shot of going anywhere. I think they ought to worry about doing things for themselves and their customers."...Here's a challenge for you: during remarks by Rep. John Lindner (R-GA) advocating a complete overhaul of the U.S. tax code, including scrapping all income taxes and the IRS (which brought cheers from the crowd but boos from reps of IRS FCU), Lindner posited that the banks would no longer have a complaint in the world if instead of leveling the playing field by taxing credit unions, corporate income taxes were eliminated for all. Credit unions cheered that, too. But does anyone believe that would satisfy the banks, or more appropriately, the bank trade associations, which need an external enemy to draw attention away from internal conflicts? So, if corporate income taxes were eliminated for banks, what do you think would be the bankers' next complaint about credit unions?

Sen. Paul Sarbanes, who noted he came to the podium "unprepared" to talk about Social Security reform and didn't want to do so, still managed to do just that for 15 minutes...Do credit unions practice what they preach? The no-surcharge ATM at the Hilton ran out of cash. The surcharge-ATM still had dough...Words you thought you'd never hear from a sane person: Rep. Kanjorski said the most pressing question in Washington is "Where, oh where, is Ross Perot?" The reason: Someone needs to focus attention again on the deficit and "fiscal irresponsibility." One sidenote: Kanjorski seems to be indicating he doesn't see such a person in his own party...One day before credit unions sent legions to the Hill to present petitions objecting to elimination of the tax deduction, Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts said, "It ain't gonna happen, so don't worry about it."

Frank J. Diekmann is Editor of The Credit Union Journal.

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