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Research & Commentary: Balanced Budget Amendment in Kentucky

February 7, 2017

A resolution in Kentucky calls for an Article V convention for a federal balanced budget amendment.

As of February 3, the United States holds over $19 trillion in total public debt, a figure that is expected to grow over the next decade. The Congressional Budget Office reported in January 2017 publicly held debt will increase from “77 percent of GDP ($15 trillion) at the end of 2017 to 89 percent of GDP ($25 trillion) by 2027.” The federal government has failed to address the mounting debt crisis, and the 115th Congress approved in January a nearly $10 trillion increase of publicly held debt, calling the decision “appropriate.”

To curb the federal government’s spending, several groups have been encouraging state legislators to use Article V of the Constitution to put forward amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Two-thirds of the states, 34, must approve and submit applications to Congress before a convention of the states can be called under Article V.

One resolution, introduced in Kentucky by state Rep. William Wells, calls for an Article V convention for the purpose of introducing a single-item amendment to balance the federal budget. The resolution requires, except when facing a national emergency, such as war, “the total of all federal outlays made by Congress for any fiscal year may not exceed the total of all estimated federal revenues.” If passed, Kentucky would be the 29th state to approve a balanced budget resolution, which means only five additional states would be needed to call for a convention.

With 28 states having already passed applications, the balanced budget amendment is the most popular constitutional reform currently being debated by the states, and it would be the first considered by an Article V convention. All previous constitutional amendments were passed in Congress before being ratified.

As mentioned in a previous Research & Commentary, “Some opponents of the creation of an Article V convention, such as the John Birch Society and the Eagle Forum, argue a ‘runaway’ convention is possible and could result in even worse policies than what the nation now faces. Many experts, including constitutional law scholar Rob Natelson, have debunked this myth. They argue the applications for an Article V convention currently being considered have strong checks in place to guarantee the issues discussed at a potential Article V convention would be limited to predetermined topics.”

The proposal being considered in Kentucky is strictly limited to the subject of a balanced budget amendment.

As elected officials representing the interests of the American people, it is paramount state legislators take notice to the ever-increasing debt of the federal government. Kentucky lawmakers should consider the costs to people of the Bluegrass State that are associated with Washington, DC’s out-of-control spending and utilize constitutionally backed reform efforts to rein in the irresponsible actions of the federal government.

The following articles provide additional information on constitutional reform.

Article V Quick Reference Guide
https://www.heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/article-v-quick-reference-guide
Kyle Maichle, The Heartland Institute’s project manager for constitutional reform, authored the Article V Quick Reference Guide to provide important information about the constitutional reform movement and process to advocates, legislators, and policy experts. This guide describes how the Article V convention process works. As Maichle explains, the process consists of state legislatures enacting applications; Congress receiving the applications; and states agreeing to convention logistics, setting out voting rules, and ratifying an amendment that has been agreed to by the states. It also provides reasons for calling a convention and rebuts some of the most commonly used falsehoods made by opponents.

Research & Commentary: A Primer on the Constitutional Reform Movement
https://www.heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/research--commentary-a-primer-on-the-constitutional-reform-movement
In this Research & Commentary, Heartland Government Relations Coordinator Lindsey Stroud examines two constitutional reform groups, the Balanced Budget Amendment Task Force and the Convention of States. Both groups have been active in the passage of state applications calling for an Article V convention for the purpose of proposing amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Stroud examines their history and the current efforts being made within both groups.

Debts, Deficits, and the BBA
https://www.heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/debt-deficits-and-the-bba
William H. Fruth, the Balanced Budget Amendment Task Force co-founder, authored this guide  highlighting the United States’ growing debt crisis. Fruth says an Article V convention to create a balanced budget amendment could finally significantly reduce the dangerous national deficit. 

Article V: A Handbook for State Lawmakers
https://www.heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/article-v-a-handbook-for-state-lawmakers
In his Article V: A Handbook for State Lawmakers, Independence Institute Senior Fellow Robert Natelson provides state legislators with the tools needed to enact the Article V convention process legally, effectively, and safely. Natelson explains the fundamentals of the procedure and what a convention would look like today. Natelson works through a step-by-step process, from application to ratification, and addresses “runaway convention” fears. Natelson also offers practical recommendations and amendments for state lawmakers in this important resource.

The Constitutional Amendment Process and a Reform Proposal
https://www.heartland.org/policy-documents/renewing-federalism-reforming-article-v-defects-constitutional-amendment-process-an
This Cato Institute Policy Analysis argues the constitutional amendment procedure of Article V is defective. Because no amendment can be enacted without congressional approval, limitations on the federal government that Congress opposes are virtually impossible to pass. This has prevented the enactment of several amendments that would have constrained the government: a balanced budget limitation, a line-item veto, and congressional term limits. The author argues Article V should be reformed to allow two-thirds of the state legislatures to propose a constitutional amendment that would then be ratified or rejected by the states, acting through state conventions or state ballot measures. The author says such a return of power to the states would limit the nation’s overly centralized federal government by helping to restore the federalist character of the U.S. Constitution.

Amending the Constitution by Convention: Practical Guidance for Citizens and Policymakers
https://www.heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/amending-the-constitution-by-convention-practical-guidance-for-citizens-and-policymakers
This is the third study in a series of three Policy Studies by Independence Institute Senior Fellow Robert Natelson on the topic of amending the Constitution of the United States through an Article V convention. In this study, the author provides guidance to citizens and legislators on how to properly implement the process of calling an Article V convention. The text is meant be general in nature and not to be substituted for legal advice.

Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this subject, visit the website of the Center for Constitutional Reform, The Heartland Institute’s website, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database.

The Heartland Institute can send an expert to your state to testify or brief your caucus; host an event in your state; or send you further information on a topic. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if we can be of assistance! If you have any questions or comments, contact John Nothdurft, The Heartland Institute’s government relations director, at john@heartland.org or 312/377-4000