MAD DOG: Drawn and Quartered

There is something about being an elected government official that gives a person the uncontrollable urge to mess around with our money. Maybe it is a part of the job description. You know, right after "Must like to argue with colleagues, eat free lunches with lobbyists who want to make fried pork rinds the new national symbol, and take money from anyone who is breathing (and a few who aren't)."I suspect it is a matter of exerting their influence. Like climbing mountains, sailing solo across the Atlantic, and sitting through a whole Chris Farley movie, people do it simply because they can. Face it, if you knew you could raise taxes, increase spending, finance the construction of a snail darter euthanasia center where 2,000 year-old trees once stood, and change the look of the money we wish we had more of, don't you think you would?Well, Congress does all this and less. Not content with slowly making our paper money look like the Reader's Digest Enlarged Type currency of the world, now they're thinking about turning our quarters into trading cards. That's right. Representative Michael Castle, chairman of the House Banking monetary policy subcommittee (motto: "If we had anything better to do don't you think we'd be doing it?"), is pushing an idea to mint a series of quarters commemorating the fifty states in the hopes that -- and I quote from an Associated Press story here, "Kids will scramble to look at the coins. For $12.50 they can collect them all."Like many kids, I once collected coins. I also collected stamps, baseball cards, bra and girdle ads from the New York Times Sunday magazine section, and broken arms, but that doesn't mean I'd recommend these as hobbies either. There were four blue fold-out albums, one for pennies, one for nickels, one for dimes, and one for quarters. I spent hours that first day, searching through the family's change for coins with different years and marks of the mints that made them, carefully putting my finds in the appropriate holes. The next day I woke up, yanked the coins out of the albums, and bought all the Twinkies and Cokes I could. Coin collecting can be a very rewarding experience.Apparently Representative Castle thinks these new quarters would be a good way to honor the different states. He plans on having the U.S. Mint (motto: "We make more money than you do.") issue five designs a year. At that rate it would take ten years to honor all the states. Longer if Puerto Rico gains statehood. Less if Montana secedes. That's if anyone notices.It would be up to each state to submit their proposed design. George Washington would stay on the front but the American eagle on the back would be replaced by, well, whatever the state thought would best represent it. The last time they put something different on the back of a quarter was during the bicentennial when they slapped a Kodak ad on it. Just kidding. Actually it was a colonial drummer and it was paid for by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.Already the states are thinking about what they want on their quarter. The speaker of the House in West Virginia thinks the state seal would be appropriate and predicts they might spend weeks debating it. Imagine that! Jack McEneny, a New York Assemblyman, thinks the Statue of Liberty or Niagra Falls might work for his state. And the Chicago Tribune has already proposed that Michael Jordan be on theirs. Really.Although each state would submit their suggested design -- and two (count 'em, 2!) federal panels would have to approve it -- there are no guidelines at this point for what can and can't be on the quarter. Just think, Maine could put a picture of their state capital on theirs --if anyone remembers what it is. New Jersey could have their motto, "The Garden State", on theirs along with a map of the Jersey Turnpike. Nebraska could put an ear of corn on their quarter, Nevada could opt for an image of Evander Holyfield's ear, and Rhode Island, well, they could put a life-size map on theirs.While the people who are pushing this idea can give us all the reasons they want for putting out these quarters -- it will teach kids about history, it is a way to instill state pride, and it is something more interesting to talk about in Congress than who's being indicted today -- the truth is it is just another way for the government to make money. Tired of the old standbys like taxes, national park entrance fees, and FCC bake sales, they figure they stand to make as much as $5 billion dollars by putting out these limited edition collector's quarters.The Treasury Department (motto: "Guarding your money because we have it all.") figures that since it only costs a few cents to make a quarter, every time someone stashes a set in their sock drawer the deficit will be reduced faster than Newt Gingrich's waistline.If this plan works, maybe we can expand it to include American cities. Imagine how much money the government will make each time someone hordes a set of those! Anyone want to trade two Detroits for one San Francisco? I didn't think so.


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