Montana Politician Wants Pay in Gold or Silver

November 16, 2012 at 08:51

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Montana Legislative Services has denied a request from state Rep. Jerry O’Neil, R-Columbia Falls, to receive his legislative pay in gold or silver coins.

O’Neil made the request earlier this week, saying he is concerned that a national debt of $16 trillion has and will devalue the U.S. dollar. He requested payment in market-value silver and gold for his annual legislative salary of about $7,000.

“On a practical level, we use the central payroll through the state Department of Administration, so there’s no way we can do it,” said Susan Fox, director of Legislative Services.

Fox requested an opinion from the Legislature’s Legal Services Office, and she got one from staff attorney Jaret Coles.

O’Neil and his supporters cite the plain language of Article One, Section 10 of the U.S. Constitution, which says that no state shall “make anything but gold and silver coin a tender in payment of debts.”

But Coles cites another Constitutional provision giving Congress the authority to coin and regulate the value of money, and Supreme Court decisions saying that the Constitution “was designed to provide the same currency, having a uniform legal value in all the states.”

Coles concluded that “the United States Constitution does not require states to provide for payment of debts in gold and silver, and the Montana Code Annotated does not grant this authority to the state treasurer.”

However, he noted that if a lawmaker wants reimbursement in gold or silver, legislation to accomplish that result can be introduced.

O’Neil said he has not had a chance to review court decisions cited by Coles, but he finds that the language he cites in the Constitution is pretty straightforward.

He said he intends to contact a broker to see if his legislative pay can be directly deposited in an account backed by precious metals, and he hopes that his constituents have that ability as well.

Mainly, he said he wanted to draw attention to the country’s severe debt burden and its devaluing effect on the dollar.

“I think I made a point. I found a lot of people agreed with me. It seems obvious to me that you can’t spend so much money without putting anything in the checking account,” he said, referring to federal spending.