This week, Danielle Cohen Higgins, a county commissioner whose District 8 covers parts of South Dade, is bringing a resolution to Miami-Dade's Infrastructure, Operations, and Innovations Committee calling for the creation of a cryptocurrency task force.
The task force would examine the feasibility of allowing residents to pay for their county taxes, fees, and services using digital currencies such as Bitcoin, Litecoin, and Ethereum. The resolution also calls for the 13-member task force to issue recommendations on other cryptocurrency initiatives.
"The item would establish a task force that could delve into the feasibility of using cryptocurrency in Miami-Dade County, to explore any potential benefits and pitfalls that could result from its use. It is important to explore all avenues that can support an expanding tech and startup presence to benefit our economy," Cohen Higgins tells New Times. (A copy of the proposed resolution is attached at the end of this article.)
The proposal comes amid a growing wave in Miami to embrace cryptocurrency and tech investment, with some elected leaders pushing to make the region a new tech hub.
City of Miami Mayor Francis Suarez has been a vocal advocate in that mission, attempting to recruit tech entrepreneurs with flattering tweets and advertisements. Cohen Higgins' proposal cites a February resolution by Suarez that asked the City of Miami to study whether and how it could use Bitcoin to pay its employees and conduct business.
Just last month, county commissioners approved a $135 million deal to sell naming rights to the American Airlines Arena, home of the Miami Heat, to the cryptocurrency exchange company FTX, which was founded only two years ago by 29-year-old MIT graduate Sam Bankman-Fried.
Much like stocks, cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin are treated by the Internal Revenue Service as property and are largely bought and sold via exchanges like FTX, where their prices vary from day to day. People can buy cryptocurrency in whole units or fractions. A person's cryptocurrency stash is stored in a digital wallet they can access online. Paying for county taxes and fees with cryptocurrency would be like transferring stocks to the county as payment — something the county does not currently allow.
Cohen Higgins tells New Times her goal in creating a cryptocurrency task force is to put Miami-Dade County a step ahead of the rest of the U.S. She says she has been inspired by Suarez's embrace of tech innovation and wants to support his efforts at the county level by exploring cryptocurrency's use for municipal government.
Other states have dipped their toes into the cryptocurrency sphere as more companies in the private sector move to accept digital currencies. In 2018, Ohio became the first state to accept business tax payments in Bitcoin, though it's reported that fewer than ten businesses actually used the service. The state suspended the program in 2019.
Elsewhere, cities like Dubai are creating their own cryptocurrencies and allowing residents to use digital money to pay for goods and services inside the city limits.
Though use of cryptocurrency by municipal governments is still a largely untested frontier, Miami-Dade County may stand to take advantage of digital currency and its perks.
Hemang Subramanian, an assistant professor at Florida International University's business school who studies cryptocurrency and the blockchain, tells New Times that cryptocurrency may be attractive for Miami and its large population of people from other nations.
Because cryptocurrencies are held in digital wallets and not tied to a specific country, Subramanian explains, foreign investors and residents wouldn't have to pay exchange fees to change their home currency into U.S. dollars and then back again. That would save them money and reduce transaction delays, making it easier for foreign residents to make payments to the county, he says.
Subramanian says it could be feasible for Miami-Dade to accept payments in digital currency, noting that companies like PayPal already allow users to pay using crypto.
The risk lies in the potential volatility of cryptocurrency prices. Digital currencies like Bitcoin are known to fluctuate wildly in value, from meteoric highs to significant lows — although Bitcoin prices have been on the rise overall. Subramanian says governments may risk losing money if they don't sell their cryptocurrency assets at the right time, but he says they should gain value over the long term.
Cohen Higgins' proposal will go before the innovations committee today at noon. If the item passes, it still must be approved by the full county commission.
The commissioner says she hopes to attract tech entrepreneurs and investors to her district and bring employment opportunities to South Dade.
"I would love for the tech boom that's already underway to root itself in South Miami-Dade County," she says. "I would love for them to consider us and for us to have a seat at the table. If we were to have a tech or innovation park [in South Dade], that would be really helpful."