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Are pennies going the way of socks?

Have trouble getting rid of your pennies? The U.S. government doesn't.

Almost two-thirds of the 13.5-billion new pennies put in circulation each year disappear, according to a General Accounting Office study. In fact, the government loses about $9-million a year on making and distributing its "nuisance coin."

That's one big pile of pennies.

Where have all the pennies gone? They're in piggy banks, wishing wells andcoin collections, under sofa cushions and otherwise just lying about.

A University of Arizona researcher who studied the nation's garbage between 1980 and 1986 estimated that the typical household tosses 3 pennies a year into the trash, no small change considering that the U.S. Mint only deals out 50 new pennies a year per American.

Because today's penny is worth one-seventh the value of the first batch, minted in 1792, perhaps it's no wonder people feel disinclined to bend over to pick one up.

Congress is toying again with dumping the penny, though previous efforts to do so faded in a debate on how to round off prices to the nearest nickel.

Although public support for ditching the penny is rising (35 percent favored the idea in 1996, up from 18 percent in 1991, according to surveys), a majority (59 percent) deemed the penny useful.

"At this point we have no plans to abolish the penny," a U.S. Treasury spokeswoman said.

_ MARK ALBRIGHT

A storm warning for business

Yet another panel of experts is being formed to look at how Florida should respond to a major hurricane. But this time, the experts are business people.

Directors of the economic development group Enterprise Florida recently took the first steps to form a special commission to study how the state's businesses could be hurt by a major hurricane, and how they should respond. Leading the push for a new panel: Tampa businessman Jim Apthorp.

"If a big storm comes along before we deal with this issue, we're going to find ... a lot of businesses in trouble," Apthorp said. One of them could be Apthorp's own business. His Atlantic Gulf Communities Inc. develops housing projects in Tampa and in South Florida.

Apthorp recommended to fellow Enterprise Florida board members that the committee include academics, politicians, business people and Insurance Commissioner Bill Nelson.

Exactly what the committee would do is muddy. But among other things, it would look at how major industries, such as banking, construction, tourism, transportation and insurance, should prepare before another big hurricane hits Florida.

One problem the group may have is figuring out what other hurricane study panels have already done. Since Hurricane Andrew devastated South Florida in 1992, countless study groups have popped up around the state.

_ ROBERT KEEFE

Tampa Bay homes being gobbled up

When it comes to home buying, Tampa Bay should be red hot this year. Just ask the Mortgage Bankers Association of America.

This metropolitan area will generate more home loans (by dollar volume) than all but four other markets in the entire country, the national trade group of the mortgage industry forecasts.

The top five: Las Vegas, Phoenix, Atlanta, Seattle and Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater.

"We see Florida doing quite well for the next 10 years, thanks to migration out of the Northeast, the aging of baby boomers, and a movement of business to lower-wage areas," said association economist Anton Haidorfer in Washington, D.C.

The Tampa Bay market is stronger than ever, the forecasters say. Of 59 metropolitan areas surveyed for home loan activity, Tampa Bay ranked 19th in 1993, 13th in 1994, 17th in 1995, 14th in 1996 and now fifth in the 1997 forecast.

For '97, Orlando is expected to rank 12th, Jacksonville 20th, and Miami 27th among the 59 metro areas.

Dead last among the 59: Providence, R. I., followed closely by Honolulu and Buffalo, N.Y.

_ ROBERT TRIGAUX

Packwood now chasing tax issue

Before Bob Packwood resigned from the Senate, having been accused of making unwanted sexual advances, he kept a lively diary.

In it, Packwood once noted that he envied the life of a lobbyist, writing that he wanted to become one "at five or six or four hundred thousand" dollars a year.

No telling if he has reached that goal yet, but Packwood, who left the Senate in September 1995, is now officially a lobbyist.

A local businessman found that out a couple of weeks ago, when he got a fund-raising letter.

Packwood, the former chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, now heads a group called the American Business Tax Force, which is drumming up contributions.

The group, based in Washington, wants to lobby Congress for elimination of inheritance and estate taxes. Targeting wealthy business people, Packwood's staffers are asking for minimum donations of $25 to fight for major tax reform. Contributions, the appeal notes, are not tax deductible.

Packwood's call for the elimination of estate taxes is hardly the only plan being put forward to change the system. Senate Republicans, Democrats and the Clinton administration all are fielding proposals for varying degrees of relief from the tax.

"This is my bones speaking," Packwood told the Associated Press. "There's a growing movement in the country that finds the death tax, the estate tax, somehow unfair."

_ KRIS HUNDLEY

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