Utah Senate Rejects Lawmaker’s Call for Amendment Resolution

Published March 2, 2017

Lawmakers in the Utah Senate rejected a lawmaker’s resolution calling for a national convention to draft and enact a balanced budget amendment prohibiting the federal government from spending more money than is taken from taxpayers in any single fiscal year.

In February, members of the Utah Senate Government Operations and Political Subdivisions Standing Committee voted to recommend passage of House Joint Resolution 3, a measure to call on Congress to begin the Article V convention process, but the full Senate voted against the measure later that month.

According to reports from local journalists, Senate lawmakers rejected the resolution out of fear the national convention would become a “runaway convention” departing from the amendment convention’s agenda and rewriting the U.S. Constitution.

The resolution, introduced by state Rep. Merrill Nelson (R-Grantsville), is based on model legislation proposed by the Convention of States (COS), a project of Citizens for Self-Governance, a nonprofit organization advocating restoring state and local government authority.

After 34 states call for an Article V convention, the gathering, consisting of commissioners selected by state lawmakers, is limited to consideration of the amendment or amendments specified in the call.

Currently, 28 states have approved at least one balanced-budget resolution. Eight states have approved the COS resolution.

Restoring States’ Power

Nelson says drafting constitutional restraints on federal government spending will empower states to take a more active role in governance.

“We’re not trying to hurt people. We’re not trying to cut essential programs,” Nelson said. “We’re trying to do this in a rational, reasonable way that meets the needs of the people but [also] restores the proper balance of federalism and puts the federal government back where it should be: engaged in its delegated powers and leaving everything else to the states.”

No ‘Runaway’ Risk

David Guldenschuh, a former legislative liaison director for the Convention of States Project and a policy advisor to The Heartland Institute, which publishes Budget & Tax News, says the limitation of the amendment convention process to a single subject prevents a “runaway convention.”

“There will not be a runaway convention,” Guldenschuh said. “Representatives from the states will meet, debate, draft a proposed amendment on the specific subject that they were sent for, vote on it, and then adjourn. Representatives to the convention will not be allowed to deliberate on issues outside of what the states assembled them for.”

Blazing Trails for Reform

Guldenschuh says a successful balanced budget amendment convention could lead to other reforms, such as a term-limits amendment.  

“If opponents see that the process works, then that I think will open the door for many more Article V conventions to be held,” Guldenschuh said.