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Cooperative Foundations take a hit at the Legislature

By Vin Nitido, Trico GM and CEO

The Trico Foundation is a non-profit foundation organized by the Cooperative in 1985 to provide college scholarship assistance to Trico Members and their dependents.

The primary source of funding for the Trico Foundation has been unclaimed capital credit retirements. Recall that the Cooperative’s margins each year are allocated as capital credits to its Members. Those margins are retired (paid out) to Members over time. Under Trico’s By-Laws, if Members move out of the Trico service territory and cannot be located by the Cooperative, capital credit retirements issued to those Members are deemed to be donated to the Trico Foundation. Typically, unclaimed property is turned over to the State under its Unclaimed Property Laws, however in a letter issued to Trico in 1985, Arizona Department of Revenue (ADOR) confirmed that, based on the Cooperative’s By-Laws, Trico’s capital credit retirements were exempt from the Unclaimed Property Laws.

This year, the Trico Foundation awarded college scholarships totaling $129,000 to 33 students. Since 1995, more than $1.5 million in college scholarships have been awarded by the Foundation, benefiting over 450 students from the Cooperative’s predominately rural and economically-disadvantaged service area. It is a program that underscores cooperative values and principles.

Enter the politics. Earlier this year, a sister Arizona cooperative sought approval from ADOR for a program similar to the Trico Foundation. But ADOR took the position that the rules had changed since 1985, and that unclaimed capital credit retirements should now be turned over to the State. So, with ADOR’s assent, the Arizona cooperatives worked with State Senator Gail Griffin to introduce SB1129, a bill that would have continued the ability of electric cooperatives to use unclaimed capital credit refunds to sponsor scholarships and other charitable programs. The bill passed unanimously through the State Senate, and received overwhelming support from cooperative members and past recipients of scholarships. But when it got to the Arizona House, it met with opposition from a Representative of a district not served by cooperatives, and fell two votes short of passing on the last day of the legislative session (six House members, some of whom had previously supported the bill, were absent). That was a frustrating and frankly unexplainable result that now calls into question the ongoing viability of programs that have benefitted so many co-op members throughout the State.

My purpose here is to ask for your support when we bring this issue back to the legislature next session. At a time when it is increasingly difficult for many to make ends meet, particularly in economically-disadvantaged rural areas, programs like the Trico Foundation provide benefits to those most in need, and deserve to be supported by our legislature. More to come.