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We Want Our Own 25-Cent Coins

BY Kenneth D. McClintock

March 23, 2005
Copyright © 2005 MIAMI HERALD. All rights reserved.

In 1999, Congress instructed the United States Mint to produce 25-cent pieces under the Fifty States Commemorative Coin Program Act. The new quarters have been immensely popular; they have inspired youngsters and adults nationwide to become coin collectors.

Ever since its enactment, this legislation has omitted nonstate U.S. jurisdictions where close to five million Americans reside. Excluded has been our nation's capital, Washington, D.C., as well as the U.S. territories of American Samoa, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands and Puerto Rico. It is offensive and frankly inexplicable that Congress should treat these half-dozen loyal U.S. communities as if we were not part of the nation.

Several times in recent years, the U.S. House or Representatives has passed the District of Columbia and United States Territories Circulation Quarter Dollar Program Act, which would rectify this omission and place the ''Separated Six'' on an equal numismatic footing with the rest of the United States. However, in the U.S. Senate (where none of the six has a voice, let alone a vote), the Banking Committee has repeatedly failed to act on the bill. Roughly 80 percent of the American citizens being snubbed by the Senate are residents of Puerto Rico.

The sale of silver proof coins alone is expected to raise $110,000,000 for the U.S. Treasury during the program's 10-year existence. During that same time period, it is estimated that the program will generate indirect treasury income of between $2.6 billion and $5.1 billion. Therefore, even if the program were expanded only to encompass Puerto Rico, the move would generate approximately $2.2 million in additional silver proof coin sales, plus somewhere between $52 million and $102 million in indirect earnings that could help reduce federal deficit.

Since 1898, the American flag has flown over Puerto Rico. The American dollar has been Puerto Rico's currency since 1899. Since, 1917, Puerto Ricans have been U.S. citizens. After more than a century as patriotic members of the American family, having defended the nation in two world wars and every conflict thereafter (including Afghanistan and Iraq), Puerto Ricans have earned the right to civic parity. It is patently wrong that the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico are denied the right to vote for the commander-in-chief who dispatches Puerto Rican military personal into harm's way, but it is utterly preposterous that we have been legislatively ostracized from something so presumably noncontroversial as a commemorative coin program.

To date, the Senate Banking Committee's excuse for shutting six jurisdictions out of the commemorative quarter's program has been a precedent, established by a former committee chairman, to the effect that any Senate version of the bill must have 67 cosponsors. There appears to be no logical reason for such stipulation, particularly when the jurisdictions in question totally lack any Senate representation of their own. Neither does it make sense that the measure has been unable to attract the support of 67 senators. By contrast, the U.S. House of Representatives has unhesitatingly adopted its District of Columbia and United States Territories Circulating Quarter Dollar Program Act several times (in 2004, for example, the House vote was 411-14).

U.S. statehood?

The Senate should procrastinate no longer. Its embrace of the House bill would pay well-deserved tribute to six U.S. communities while simultaneously pumping funds into the nation's severely depleted coffers.

Could it be that the senators are subtly inviting those communities to petition for U.S. statehood? After all, Section 7 of the already-in-force Fifty States Commemorative Coin Program Act provides that the secretary of the treasury may issue quarter-dollar coins to recognize any additional states that are admitted to the Union before the end of the 10-year period specified in the law.

Kenneth D. McClintock is the president of the Puerto Rico Senate.

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