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Gold, silver legal tender in Utah, but a long way from replacing dollar

Published November 29, 2011 7:37 am

Utah gold bugs aim to make transactions in precious metals as common as paper.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Carlton Bowen is frustrated.

The Orem man says all he wants to do is pay his property tax, but the Utah County treasurer says no.

The reason: Bowen wants to pay his taxes in silver.



"When is Utah going to accept its own legal tender?" Bowen asked.

Earlier this year, the Utah Legislature passed groundbreaking legislation, stating that gold and silver coins can be used as legal tender in Utah — a popular issue among factions of the tea party movement that fear a catastrophic meltdown of the U.S. dollar.

The practical impact of the Legislature's move has been minimal.

In Bowen's case, for example, he says he's bought goods from a handful of companies and paid his tithing to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with precious metals. But the Utah County and state treasurers have rejected Bowen's payment.

"In my mind there's still no practical way of making this happen," said Richard Ellis, the Utah State Treasurer. He said the state simply isn't equipped to accept, authenticate and store gold and silver, and doesn't see it becoming a reality in the near future.

"It doesn't allow much," Senate Majority Leader Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, said of the bill he co-sponsored recognizing gold. "But the concept behind it is powerful. Little by little our currency is being devalued. … It's a little pushback on one hand, but on the other, maybe it will make us look at the value of our currency and strengthen it."

Backers of Utah's hard money crusade and Rep. Brad Galvez, R-West Haven, will return this session with new legislation and big plans aimed at making commerce using precious metals commonplace.

The proposals include clarifying that people who buy a car, for example, with gold coins can pay the sales tax based on a percentage of the weight of the metal, instead of having to pay it in dollars based on the value of the purchase.

Gold debit cards • But the real game-changer could come in the form of gold or silver repositories, companies that will store your gold in a vault and have plans to issue debit cards that let customers draw from their precious metal reserves to buy anything from a ham sandwich to a new home.

Several are already testing such a debit card system. Larry Hilton, an attorney and leader in Utah's gold movement, said state regulators — who currently have no oversight over such repositories — could monitor the industry. However, that hinges in part on whether federal regulators agree to the arrangement.

And what is driving the new gold rush?

The dollar is doomed, contends Tom Selgas, a monetary policy expert with the United States Bill of Rights Foundation, who travels the country urging legislatures to follow Utah's lead.

No fiat currency — notes that aren't backed by gold or silver — has survived more than 42 years, Selgas contends, and President Richard Nixon moved the U.S. off of the gold standard in 1971, suggesting the last days for the dollar.

He predicts the European debt crisis will infect the United States, pushing the teetering dollar over the brink, not only crashing the economy but also dragging down Western civilization.

"I would assert that one dollar today will be worth one penny in five years," he said.

Hard currency is the only buffer against the coming storm, he says.

Establishing a complementary currency — really a new, parallel avenue for commerce — offers a redundancy that will allow the economy to survive.

Those currency fears — along with plentiful advertising by conservative leaders like Glenn Beck and others — have gold selling for nearly $1,700 an ounce and silver over $30 an ounce.

A key piece of Utah's transition to a gold-and-silver economy, according to Hilton, involves letting private individuals mint their own coins in various denominations that could be used for day-to-day transactions.

"We feel it makes sense to look at monetizing coins that could be [of] private origin, perhaps produced within this state that would have those correct denominations," Hilton told a legislative committee about two weeks ago.

Hilton suggests the state would need to create an agency that could certify the authenticity of certain coins and those who make them in order to prevent fraud.

But not everyone is as eager as Hilton to embrace a new gold standard.

"I see an incredible encumbrance to this being functional through the banking system, and I say that with 35 years in the banking industry," said Rep. David Clark, R-Santa Clara, a regional vice president with Zions Bank. "The system is not set up to do that, and there has to be an incredible amount of change in order to do that."

Fallout • Keith Woodwell, an official with the Utah Department of Commerce, said the agency has seen fallout from the gold cravings.

"We have seen an increased number of investment scams related to precious metals, and they take a variety of different shapes and sizes," he said.

They range from investments in mining companies or ore processing technologies to selling worthless coins to scams where investors think they buy gold and put it in a vault, but the gold is never actually purchased.

Ellis, the treasurer, says gold and silver transactions present enormous risks to the state that have to be addressed before he's comfortable with the idea.

How would the state determine the value of a coin? What's the exchange rate? How do the state or counties secure the precious metals?

"There are a lot of things that put the treasurer in the middle of it, but I'm not anxious to necessarily be in that role," Ellis said.

In addition, state law prohibits the state from holding gold as an asset, because of the price volatility, so it would have to be sold off on a regular basis. If the price drops, Ellis said, the state could lose money — although it could make money on an upswing.

"I'm very concerned that this has potential for money laundering and other types of illegal activities. … Nobody's fleshed out all these details, and they want to have as little regulation and oversight as possible," Ellis said. "I haven't tried to make preparations to [accept payments] because there's just not a practical way of making this work."

gehrke@sltrib.comTwitter: @RobertGehrke —

Utah's Legal Tender Act

Gold and silver coin issued by the federal government is legal tender in the state

A person may not compel any other person to tender or accept gold and silver coin

There is a nonrefundable credit established for any capital gains incurred from the exchange of gold and silver coin

The exchange of gold and silver coin is exempt from sales and use taxes

Source: Utah Code 59-1-1501 through 59-1-1503

 

 

 

 

 

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