Bills seek surcharge ban for private entities

Legislation would amend commem coinage law
Published : 10/07/12
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Legislation introduced in Congress Sept. 21 would prohibit the payment of commemorative coin surcharges to private organizations.

Bills now pending in the House of Representatives and Senate would require the surcharges be used to pay for all production costs incurred by the U.S. Mint, with any excess surcharges used to decrease the federal debt.

H.R. 6495 was introduced by Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., and S. 3612 was introduced by Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C. Each measure is called the Commemorative Coins Reform Act of 2012.

As of Sept. 26 the House bill had one co-sponsor and the Senate bill had seven co-sponsors.

H.R. 6495 was referred to the House Committee on Financial Services while S. 3612 was sent to the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs.

The bills call for amending Section 5134(f) of Title 31 of the United States Code, which regulates the payment of surcharges from sales of commemorative coins.

Amash, in a Sept. 21 “Dear Colleague” letter now circulating in the House, said commemorative coin legislation is one way for Congress to grant “special favors” and “funnel largesse to well-connected private organizations.”

“These bills require the Treasury to mint coins in honor of private groups. The coins include a ‘surcharge,’ which the government funnels to the groups. The surcharges can total millions of dollars per coin bill, and the U.S. Mint reports they have raised more than $418 million since 1982.”

If the proposed legislation is approved by Congress and signed into law by the president, “any commemorative coin program established or numismatic item produced” on or after the date of enactment of the Commemorative Coins Reform Act of 2012 would be subject to this amendment.

However, a spokesman in Amash’s office confirmed that commemorative coin legislation already law will not be subject to the provisions of the Commemorative Coins Reform Act of 2012.

Both bills state “no surcharges collected with respect to the sale of any numismatic item may be paid to any organization outside of the federal government, other than with respect to the costs of producing and selling such item.”

Any excess surcharges, after production costs are paid, would be transferred to the “general fund of the Treasury for the purpose of deficit reduction.’’

Since 1996, when an earlier Commemorative Coin Reform Act became law, all commemorative coin legislation has been required to include a provision that all Mint program costs must first be paid before surcharges are sent to the surcharge benefiting organizations.

Future commemorative coins

Commemorative coin programs that are already law are the Girl Scouts USA Centennial and the 5 Star General programs for release in 2013; the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum programs for release in 2014; and the U.S. Marshals Service program for 2015.

Currently, 16 commemorative coin bills on a wide range of subjects await approval in the current Congress. If those bills are not approved by Congress before the Dec. 31 end of the 112th Congress, they will not become law for lack of action.

Commemorative coin history

Commemorative coin programs authorized since the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games program (for which coins were issued in 1983 and 1984) have included provisions for surcharges added to the cost of every coin sold. The Mint distributes the surcharges to organizations designated in the authorizing legislation.

Some early, widely popular programs raised significant levels of revenue. That success prompted other groups with special causes or memorials to seek commemorative coin programs as a low-effort source of funding revenues. In response, Congress authorized an increasing number of programs, some attracting little collector interest.

The 1996 reform legislation, in addition to prohibiting the pay out of surcharges for any program that did not make a profit, also limited the number of programs in any given year to two, among other provisions.

The current federal fiscal year ends at midnight Sept. 30 and the federal deficit is on track to surpass $1 trillion. The deficit is the shortfall created when the federal government spends more than it collects in taxes. ■

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