Tax Advocacy Spotlight: Spokane Credit Unions Deliver a Huge Message

Spokane Credit Unions Present the Gift of Public Opinion

Good guests know better than to arrive empty-handed. So leaders from Spokane credit unions were heavy laden when they showed up Aug. 22 for a meeting with U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers.

“We brought a present for you today, from more than 13,000 of your constituents,” said Tom Johnson, president/CEO of STCU.

One three-ringed binder after another was placed on the conference room table in the Spokane office of the fourth-ranking GOP member of the U.S. House of Representatives. They contained 762 letters and petitions signed by 13,575 Eastern Washington residents who want Congress to know that they love their tax-exempt credit unions just the way they are.

Identical “gifts” were delivered the previous day, when credit union leaders met with staff for U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell. Staff at each of the credit union prepared binders, as well, for a meeting in early September in the Spokane office of U.S. Sen. Patty Murray.

“We got all these, just in a two-week period,” Jeff Adams, president/CEO of Horizon Credit Union told McMorris Rodgers. “That’s how passionate our members are about their credit unions!”

In those two weeks, Horizon alone collected signatures from 5,335 Washingtonians (and more from Idaho and Montana). That’s 10 percent of members at the credit union that started in 1947 to serve employees at Kaiser Aluminum—still a key economic player in the sprawling Fifth Congressional District.

STCU collected nearly 7,000 signatures (including 6,268 from Washington residents) from its 116,000 members. Global, Prime Source, Spokane Media Federal and United Health Services credit unions also collected signatures in their branches. And all of the credit unions, plus Coulee Dam Federal and Numerica, collected letters as the Senate Finance Committee weighs the possibility of taxing credit unions.

“Holy moly!” responded McMorris Rodgers. “They’re not going to go down without a fight.”

The Eastern Washington credit unions may compete fiercely for auto loans and mortgages, but they’ve learned that they’re stronger when they band together on advocacy issues. They were part of a June 21 “summit” hosted by STCU to discuss strategy for tackling the tax issue. Spokane credit unions came together for a similar effort in 2012, when the lame-duck Congress had the MBL cap under consideration, preparing joint press releases and taking other cooperative steps.

For her part, McMorris Rodgers has said that she favors as much competition as possible among all financial institutions. Married to a retired Navy commander, she said during the credit union meeting that she’s a member of Navy Federal Credit Union.

“I’m for all these options in the marketplace,” said McMorris Rodgers, who sometimes is included on pundits’ lists of potential GOP presidential running mates. “Small businesses that can’t get loans anyplace else, this is the only place that they can go.”

Using numbers from the Credit Union National Association’s (CUNA) Project Zip Code, the credit union leaders told McMorris Rodgers that nearly half of the 640,000 residents in her district are credit union members, and nearly three million people statewide are members. The numbers, which can be obtained through the Northwest Credit Union Association (NWCUA) for any Washington or Oregon congressional district, provided another “wow” moment for the Congresswoman.

McMorris Rodgers predicted that a Congress that has difficulty accomplishing small tasks will not achieve an overhaul of the tax code, let alone end the tax exempt status that has benefitted credit union members since 1934. But credit union advocates noted that not too long ago, McMorris Rodgers doubted the tax status of credit unions would be an issue at all. Now, that idea is in a Senate Finance Committee working paper and getting a big push from lobbying groups that represent bankers.

“I think it’s unlikely this proposal will get to the House,” McMorris Rodgers said. “But you’re right to be concerned because the unexpected can happen.”

 

Editor’s note: Dan Hansen from STCU submitted this article.

Questions? Contact Lynn Heider: 503.350.2225, lheider@nwcua.org.

Posted in Advocacy News.