Robertson: Keep Credit Union Tax Status Unchanged
State Rep. David Robertson, R-Grand Blanc, was elected to the Michigan House of Representatives in 2002 to represent the 51st District, which covers southern Genesee County, including the township of Grand Blanc, the city and township of Fenton, the townships of Mundy, Atlas and Argentine, the city of Linden, and the village of Goodrich. He previously served in the Legislature as a state representative from 1991-92, working on some of the most significant reforms during the Engler Administration, and was later appointed by Gov. Engler as chairman of the Employment Security Board of Review. He also served as a rules analyst for the Joint Committee on Administration Rules in 1995-96 and served on the Genesee County Board of Commissioners from 1998-2002 prior to returning to the Legislature.
Robertson is a member of several professional organizations, including the Grand Blanc Rotary Club, in which he served as president, and the Federalist Society, a national association of conservative legal scholars. For his work with the Rotary Club, he earned the distinction of being named a Paul Harris Fellow, the highest honor that can be bestowed upon a member of the club. Robertson is also an active supporter of the Boy Scouts and serves on his alma mater’s Board of Governors.
A graduate of Swartz Creek High School and the University of Michigan-Flint, Robertson is a licensed insurance agent and was employed by Al Bourdeau Insurance in Flint prior to his election. He was recently named chairman of the new House Banking and Financial Services Committee by Michigan House Speaker Craig DeRoche, R-Novi, which will hold primary responsibility for legislation impacting on the financial services industry, including credit unions. The following conversation between Rep. Robertson and Contact Magazine Editor Al Zawacky took place in Lansing in early February.
First of all, are you a credit union member or have any personal experience with credit unions?
Yes, certainly. I’ve been a member of a credit union in the past, both at State Emp. CU (LN) when I was an employee of the state prior to my current service; and also with Family Community CU (FL) in the Flint area. I don’t have any credit union accounts currently, but all my experiences with credit unions were very positive.
You were recently appointed to serve as the chair of the newly created House Banking and Financial Services Committee. Do you have any legislative priorities you would like to see move through your committee?
Generally speaking, my only priority is to help make good public policy for the people of Michigan. Certainly, the Committee is going to give serious attention to all the bills that are assigned to it. Routinely, there are re-introductions of bills that failed to pass the Legislature in the previous term, and I will be receptive to initiatives that are brought before us by the financial service industry, of which credit unions are a significant part. Credit unions provide a vital, necessary service and are a crucial part of the financial services industry in our state. And my interest is creating the healthiest possible environment for all financial institutions, so that they can provide the best possible service to their customers — or their members, in the case of credit unions.
Selection as chairman of this committee is obviously an honor. Why do you believe that Michigan House Speaker Craig DeRoche tapped you for this responsibility?
I know that Speaker DeRoche is familiar with my past service with the Corporations and Finance Committee. I also have the advantage of having served in the Legislature prior to term limits, in 1991-92, so even though this is my third term I can run again for a fourth. I suppose I have more institutional memory than many members of the Legislature because of that. Plus, I served on the Insurance Committee in the previous session, so I’m familiar with some of the banking and finance issues that were dealt with at that time.
With all 138 seats in the Michigan Legislature up for election, plus the governor’s seat, a U.S. Senate seat and all 15 U.S. House seats up for election next year, do you really think the atmosphere will be congenial for political cooperation and compromise in 2005? Or will the high stakes of the 2006 election overshadow the important policy decisions that need to be made?
Well, when you serve in the House where everyone has a two-year term, it often seems like no sooner is one election cycle over, the next one is coming up right ahead. Having said that, however, I am confident that we can reach bipartisan consensus on a lot of issues. I’m very encouraged with the conversations I’ve had with our Committee’s minority Vice Chairman, Tupac Hunter, D-Detroit, and I’m looking forward to working with him. I’ve gotten a very good sense that we’ll be able to get along very well. And I’ll say the same thing to you that I said to him: It is always my goal and desire to secure bipartisan support to the fullest extent possible. It may not always be possible; but it is always desired and should always be pursued. So, I feel confident that we’ll be able to move legislation out of committee and I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to secure the governor’s signature on those bills that we feel are important. Obviously, with bipartisan support, it’s more likely that we’ll get the governor’s support and, as chairman of the committee, I think it’s incumbent upon me to be sensitive to the administration’s position at critical times so that we’re able to advance the legislation that the state needs.
Given the state’s current budget deficit and the governor’s desire to restructure the tax code, there have been discussions to expand the sales tax on services, specifically financial services. Would you support expanding the sales tax on such services?
I know that there are those in government who have sought to expand the sales tax to services for many years. I remember such discussions during my first term in the Legislature. But, being one of the most conservative Republicans in the House, it should come as no surprise that I do not support tax increases or the expansion of the sales tax. I think that would be detrimental to the state’s economy, and counterproductive to our goal of job creation.
As you know, Michigan’s state-chartered credit unions are non-profit, member-owned cooperatives and therefore are exempt from paying the Single Business Tax under current law. During the 2004 election, you joined many Michigan House candidates, the entire Michigan congressional delegation, Gov. Granholm and President Bush in expressing support for the credit union tax exemption. Would you oppose changing the credit union tax exempt status as part of any tax restructuring proposal?”
I am familiar with the long history of non-profit status of credit unions. I understand that the nature of a credit union and its mission are fundamentally different from those of profit-making institutions such as banks. That difference has been underscored to me with the discussions I’ve had with credit union representatives in my own area who are active in your association (the MCUL). And I am not inclined toward any change. I believe your nonprofit status is fundamental to who and what credit unions are.
The Republicans held 63 seats in the House of Representatives last session, compared to 58 this session. Do you think this will have an impact on moving forward on Republican-lead initiatives?
Obviously, the Democrats have picked up seats and the margins are a little closer. But the Republicans are still in the majority, and I think that majority is secure. Again, we would like to secure bipartisan support whenever possible. But I have every confidence that we’ll be able to maintain the unity of our caucus and move our agenda forward. Our goal is simply to make Michigan the best place for people to work, live and plan their futures, both for themselves and their children, and to create the best possible climate for economic growth and prosperity.
Do you see the general state of the Michigan economy, then, as the biggest issue facing the Legislature?
Well, it has to be everyone’s focus when you have concerns about job losses and the need for more job creation. As I’ve said, all of the challenges that we deal with in state government are far more easily solvable if the people of Michigan are working. Certainly, there’s no more serious issue than not having a job to go to in the morning, and being unable to provide for your family. That’s why our focus has to be on job creation, economic growth and prosperity, and putting in place policies that will help make these things happen. Naturally, banking and the financial services industry plays a crucial role in economic growth and development, and the role that credit unions play for their members and for Michigan citizens as a whole is vital. Many of my constituents, and the constituents of everyone serving in the Legislature, rely on the services provided by credit unions.
Serving in the State House is obviously a very demanding and stressful position. What prompted you to seek public office?
I’ve had a lifelong interest in public policy issues and public service. And I guess I genuinely believed that I could do a great job representing the interests of the 51st House District in southern Genesee County — and I’m delighted that the voters have agreed with me and given me another opportunity to continue to serve them.