Down with George Washington!


If a dollar coin replaced the dollar bill, it would make today's Fourth of July celebrations more enjoyable for thousands of local residents. Riding the Metro today could be as easy as dropping a dollar coin into a fare basket instead of waiting in lines only to have a fare card machine reject a slightly creased paper bill. Along with American independence, one could celebrate the $318 million this coin would save the federal government annually. Yet the general public fears the inconvenience of those extra coins weighing down their pockets, making Congress skittish about endorsing the "U.S. One Dollar Coin Act of 1991."

Because the Southwest is copper-rich, it's not surprising that Sen. Pete Domenici of New Mexico and Rep. Jim Kolbe of Arizona have reintroduced legislation to replace the paper bill with a dollar coin made mostly of copper. Mr. Kolbe has incorporated into his bill the advice of the General Accounting Office that the $1 coin will succeed only if the $1 bill is eliminated after the new coin is introduced. A similar procedure worked well in Canada.

Because a $1 coin lasts nearly 30 years, it would save Washington a whopping $9 billion over that period. The failed 1979 attempt to introduce the Susan B. Anthony $1 coin left 500 million unused "Suzies" in U.S. Mints and Federal Reserve branches. But these could still be recycled into gold-colored dollar coins with smooth rims, avoiding the 1979 coin's fatal flaw -- its similarity in size and weight to the quarter.

Why resist this coin if it would save billions? Americans would rather carry paper money instead of all those coins. Yet that concern could be partly offset by increasing the amount of $2 bills in circulation. Still, Americans are comfortable with the current system and reluctant to switch.

Among its many advocates, the Coin Act has the support of the American Public Transit Association and the Sierra Club because it would strengthen public transportation systems. The Coin Act would eliminate the need for $1 bill fare machines, which would make boarding faster and would save some transit systems millions of dollars. Baltimore's MTA would save $225,000 annually.

Twelve countries have replaced their equivalent of the dollar bill. The U.S. should follow suit. But it won't happen until the public sees benefits in a $1 coin and tires of stuffing all those portraits of George Washington into its collective wallets.

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