With the right approach, coin bill could collect some revenue

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Print this page by Robert Powell

A bill sponsored by Delegate Bob Marshall allowing the state to mint coins survived the General Assembly session.

But this is not the Marshall money bill that you might have heard about. That legislation would have set up a subcommittee to determine whether Virginia needs to create its own currency, just in case the Federal Reserve System fails.

When word about that bill got out, bloggers and political pundits had a field day, wondering aloud whether Confederate dollars would be making a comeback in the Old Dominion.

Meanwhile, the second bill permitting the state to create commemorative coins quietly won the approval of both houses. The coins, made of gold, platinum and silver, would bear the commonwealth’s seal and the likeness of a historic figure.

The idea sounds very reasonable, but you have to wonder, is the state missing a revenue opportunity here? By “historic figures,” I assume that the intent is to put the faces of great Virginians like Washington and Jefferson on these coins. In other words, they will be the same people who already grace the money overseen by the suspect Federal Reserve. Are people really going to pay for coins that will only create confusion when they are fishing furiously for change at the toll booth?

At a time when the commonwealth is hard pressed for revenue, why not be creative and a bit entrepreneurial? In the spirit of Jonathan Swift, I suggest a few modest proposals to make a mint on these coins.
The first idea is to sell naming rights to the highest bidder. Many places already do that with the names of stadiums, so why not commemorative coins? People with big egos and swollen bank accounts would love to have their faces on Virginia coins. A Donald Trump silver dollar, for example, could have his famous coif on one side and the words “You’re Fired” on the other.  They could be handed out to laid-off employees as part of their severance package.

Charlie Sheen coins would show him chain-smoking on one side and the word “winning” on other. They could be used for coin tosses at football games. The visiting team, of course, would always pick “winning” when the coin is in air, so the side with Sheen’s face probably would be considered “tails.”

Another option for the state would be to borrow an idea from the Virginia Lottery, creating tie-ins with NFL football and NASCAR racing,  two of the nation’s most popular sports. The coins quickly would become keepsakes for diehard fans.

In a deal with the Washington Redskins, for example, a 50-cent coin would feature a halfback, a 25-cent piece would be saved for a quarterback and a 5-cent coin would, of course, be reserved for a “nickel back” (the fifth player in the defensive secondary).

The added advantage of working with the Redskins would be the faces on these coins will change frequently as the team continuously reshuffles its lineup. Redskin quarterback coins, in fact, should be minted as limited-edition collector’s items.

The NASCAR connection could be even more lucrative. Fans are well known for their devotion to their favorite drivers. They would gobble up coins with faces of Dale Earnhardt Jr., Denny Hamlin or Jimmie Johnson on one side and their car numbers on the other. As an added touch, the drivers could be depicted wearing a promotional baseball cap saying. “Virginia is for NACAR Lovers.”

NASCAR, in fact, offers a model for one more idea for the state, this time involving caps instead of coins. I always have admired the fact that drivers and race teams openly acknowledge their sponsors. The winning driver, for example, always is photographed wearing a seemingly succession of promotional caps.

Virginia could borrow this practice to add some transparency to the workings of the General Assembly. It would set a limit, or “cap,” on political contributions to legislators. Any group that wants to pay more would be free to do so under one condition. The delegates and senators getting that extra money would be required to wear caps during the General Assembly session acknowledging ties to these special interests any time a bill affecting them comes up. That way the public would have no doubt who their legislators represent.

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