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Balanced Budget Amendment Roadblocks Abound

One of the problems with a balanced budget amendment in the eyes of its state-level opponents is the possibility of losing federal assistance. Every state but Vermont has a legal requirement of a balanced budget, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Many states depend on the federal government to help prop up social services. Democratic state Rep. Jon Sesso, Minority Leader in the Montana House, said he worries that funding for his and other state’s safety nets might be one of the first things to go if the government was forced to carry a balanced budget.

“I am very concerned that the programs we have supported that are designed to help the least advantaged in our state are at risk,” he said. “That is a big deal.”

According to Sesso, states faced with their own budget cuts may no longer be able to count on the federal government to support social services. They would be forced to make even more cuts than many already have.

Republican state Rep. Jeremy Hutchinson, who authored a resolution in Arkansas in favor of the amendment, dismissed those concerns. “We don’t care what Vermont does,” he said.

Despite these divisions, there has been some movement on the state level in favor of a balanced budget amendment. Six states have passed resolutions this year calling on Congress to pass an amendment and send it to the states; in Oklahoma, 64 lawmakers signed a letter of support from their state.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott and the state’s legislative leaders also pledged support for the balanced budget amendment, though a resolution supporting the amendment died in the Florida House of Representatives earlier this year.

“Florida will be the first state to set a special session to ratify it,” should Congress send an amendment to the states, Scott said in a July statement.

Alan Parks, director of Americans for a Balanced Budget Amendment, sees a path to victory for the amendment. He thinks it is Congress that is the major obstacle.

“If it gets passed through Congress, it could pass the states,” he said.

That’s a big if. And supporters will need to exercise patience.

The 27th Amendment, which limits  changes to Congressional pay, took 203 years to be ratified.

Some have suggested that to try to boost the chance of ratification, conservative supporters could do something similar. The thinking is with more time, supporters would be able to convince more states to get on board.

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