The biggest legislative cliff-hanger this year was the issue of raising the ceilings on interest rates. The topsy-turvy debate that went on for three months--among the governor, the attorney general, legislators and the powerful banking lobby--resulted in mostly bad news for consumers and mostly good news for the lending industry. Interest rate ceilings will be raised from 18 percent to 24 percent on most consumer loans and credit card charges. Second-mortgage loans, now at 16 percent, will have a new lid of 24 percent.
But, as if not to offend completely the consumers in this notorious "anti-banking" state, the legislature agreed to continue to prohibit membership fees on credit cards, and also voted against additional fees for processing second-mortgage loans.
Supporters of higher interest-rate ceilings, including Hughes and the legislative leadership (all of whom opposed such legislation in the past), clearly won friends in the financial industry, but they went to great lengths to assuage consumers. Without the higher ceilings, they said, less credit would be available to borrowers.
Although the interest-rate legislation passed in the final week of the session, it failed to achieve one of its main goals: to prevent banks from moving their credit operations to states such as Delaware, where banking laws are more lenient. When the House voted several weeks earlier against credit card membership fees, Suburban Bank, the state's fourth largest, announced it would follow the state's three biggest banks and move its credit card operations to Delaware.