By Dan Eaton
U.S. Rep. Steve Stivers is tired of waiting for change. The Columbus congressman began pushing a plan more than a year ago that would alter the make-up of pennies and nickels to a new, more-affordable composition using American-made steel.
His proposal, dubbed the Cents and Sensibility Act, sat last year as a two-year study by the U.S. Mint on the topic was nearing completion. The results of that study? More study needed.
Stivers' response? Move ahead with an expanded act that would include dimes and quarters as well. The 50-cent piece and $1 coin were left off since neither are made or used in large volumes.
"I think it's time to act," Stivers told me, noting that the U.S. Constitution gives Congress control over currency. "Lets admit we know the answer."
His goals remain the same from when he first proposed the plan:
* It is more cost-effective to use steel -- pennies and nickels currently cost more to make than their face value.
* Steel is an American resource -- materials such as nickel and zinc are imported from Russia and Canada.
* Taxpayers will save in the long run -- $433 million in savings over 10 years according to the House Financial Services Committee.
For a comparison of what it costs to make coins versus their face value, click here.
Stivers also said there would be financial benefits to the recovery cost of copper, nickel and zinc from old coins, possibly up to $3 billion.
Columbus-based Worthington Industries Inc. is supporting the measure and working to build industry-wide backing for the materials switch.
"In our capacity as a supplier, we have a responsibility to back up what Congressman Stivers is trying to do here," spokeswoman Cathy Lyttle told me.
Worthington (NYSE:WOR) supplies steel used for coins to both the Royal Canadian Mint and Jarden Zinc Products LLC, a Tennessee-based maker of zinc coin blanks. The Canadian Mint produces not just coins for its own country, but more than 70 other denominations for 30 other countries.
Beverley Lepine, Royal Canadian Mint chief operating officer, in a hearing last fall said the mint's profit in the previous five years has exceeded its net income in the previous 25. It generated $43 million (Canadian) on $3.2 billion in revenue in 2011.
"That's real-world experience," Lyttle said.
Stivers said it's important to get the process started because it will take several years to roll out. Not only does starting the conversion make those savings get realized earlier, it gives industries that rely on coin-operated machinery, like vending businesses, enough of a runway to prepare for changes. He said coin-operated vendors will need to update equipment to recognize the different electromagnetic signature of steel coins.
The expanded bill has been introduced. The next step will be a hearing before the house subcommittee on monetary policy. Stivers said he hopes that will occur before the August recess.
He said the penny still has a place in the plan -- for now. The topic of eliminating the one-cent piece was discussed in committee hearings last year, but has not been part of Stivers' legislation.
"At some point we may need to have a conversation about whether or not we need the penny," Stivers told me, "but today the focus needs to be on making production as cost effective as we can."