Washington's Main Event

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With a pair of boxing gloves as part of its logo and the tagline "The Main Event," CUNA sought to invoke prize fights at every turn at its annual Governmental Affairs Conference-right down to bringing former World Heavyweight Champion Larry Holmes onto the stage.

But one of the less conspicuous boxing-related moments came when CUNA SVP-Governmental Affairs John McKechnie talked about the importance of having a plan when embarking on Hike The Hill, when the credit union faithful swarm their lawmakers' offices.

"It's like Mike Tyson said, 'Everyone has a plan until you get hit in the mouth,'" McKechnie said during a session designed to prime credit unions for fending off bank attacks during their Hike The Hill visits.

Such planning is so crucial that even getting verbiage just right counts, he said. "The vocabulary on The Hill is very important," he told credit union representatives. "Don't say why something is good for the credit union, say why it's good for your members. When you say something is good for the credit union, you set up two competitors in a battle: credit unions versus banks. In both cases, those are institutions, and it's easy to see them as just squabbling over the competition. You need to show how something is good for the members. Members are people, not institutions. They are votes."

Even as lawmaker after lawmaker assured the credit union faithful that the tax exemption was safe-at least at the federal level-CUNA pointed to a state-by-state skirmish that could eventually endanger the tax exemption in the future.

Pointing to the recent passage of a non-binding resolution by the Utah state legislature that exhorts Congress to take up the credit union tax exemption, McKechnie explained how banks are hoping to take on credit unions one state at a time.

The Utah resolution, for example, seeks to turn the tax exemption into a state's rights issue, imploring the Federal government to allow states to tax federally chartered credit unions. "But Congress is never very interested in ceding power to the states," McKechnie noted. But at the same time, if the banks are able to claim victory in one state, they will seek similar victories elsewhere. "We know the Utah bankers have fanned out to other states, like Iowa," he said, suggesting that banks hope to see a domino effect among the states that eventually forces Congress to take action.

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