Gold, silver plan gets go-ahead in AZ Senate

GOP OKs measure to make precious metals legal tender
2013-05-01T00:00:00Z Gold, silver plan gets go-ahead in AZ SenateHoward Fischer Capitol Media Services Arizona Daily Star

PHOENIX - So if you think the lines at the grocery store move slowly now, imagine waiting behind someone who wants to pay with a few chunks of gold.

That's exactly what state Sen. Steve Farley said Tuesday could happen if Arizona goes down the path of making privately minted gold and silver coins and even chunks of bullion legal tender in the state. Jammed checkout lines aside, the Tucson Democrat sees the measure as a golden opportunity, so to speak, for counterfeiters.

But none of that swayed all the Republicans in the Senate who voted Tuesday, in essence, to give those gold and silver pieces the same legal standing as the greenback.

Only one Democrat, Barbara McGuire of Kearny, went along with the plan.

With the House already giving its blessing, Tuesday's vote means it would take just a signature from Gov. Jan Brewer to make it the law.

The practical effects of such a law remain unclear.

The proposal, SB 1439, wouldn't require any merchant to accept the coins or bullion. And the experience so far in Utah, which went down this path two years ago, is that there is no rush by anyone to start taking the alternate currency.

What's behind the measure, at least on the surface, is the belief that the currency now being printed by the Federal Reserve Bank is essentially unsound. Sen. Chester Crandell, R-Heber, said there is no confidence in the dollar, what with the Fed continuing to print new money.

Senate President Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, has called what's being used today "fiat currency which continues to inflate."

But Farley said supporters aren't thinking this through.

He said any company that wants to accept this alternate currency would have to have an assayer to determine not only whether that rock or ingot being presented is genuine but also its purity. And a scale would be necessary to determine its weight to translate its value to dollars.

Farley said that's why businesses have not signed on in support.

"They don't like the idea of a grocery store having an assayer and a scale at the cash register," Farley said. "I can't imagine anybody would, given the lines that would form behind that."

Proponents have said they envision a system where some outside third party has possession of the gold and silver and issues the owner what amounts to a debit card loaded with the value of the stored metal.

"But the little plastic cards have nothing to do with actually what's backing it," Farley countered. "It's a pile of gold and silver somewhere and you have to trust those people backing the cards that it's actually going to be good."

Distrust of federally issued currency aside, the measure appears designed to provide some tax benefits for investors.

Current law says if someone invests in gold and then sells it later at a profit, that difference is subject to capital gains.

Crandell's legislation seeks to get around that with its declaration that gold and silver coins - including those minted by the United States government and bought up by investors - and bullion are "legal tender." The measure states that "the exchange of one form of legal tender for another does not give rise to liability for any type of tax."

Even assuming that would hold up in Arizona, it would not overrule federal tax laws and investors would still find themselves having to deal with the Internal Revenue Service.

All that, however, presumes a capital gain.

Last fall, gold was trading close to $1,800 an ounce. Its value had slid somewhat since before taking a one-day $140-an-ounce drop earlier this month.

Farley said that makes the value of the precious metal far more volatile than anything affecting the dollar.

Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix, who opposes the measure, said, "It pretty much creates another avenue for national media to poke fun at Arizona, again, just making us the laughingstock of this great country."

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