Nampa lawmaker pushes balanced budget

McKenzie wants Idaho to seek a constitutional convention for U.S.

LEWISTON TRIBUNEFebruary 2, 2014 

A Nampa lawmaker wants Congress to do a better job of tracking the applications it receives from states calling for an Article V constitutional convention.

Article V of the U.S. Constitution gives Congress the authority to propose its own constitutional amendments. It also requires Congress to call a constitutional convention “upon application of the legislatures of two-thirds of the various states.”

That language was added during the 1787 convention, in part to give states a means to circumvent obstructionist federal legislators. States have used it hundreds of times over the years, calling for constitutional conventions on everything from abolishing polygamy to limiting income taxes to allowing school prayer.

The two-thirds threshold has been approached several times, but never quite reached. The most recent issue to come close has been federal spending.

Sen. Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, wants Idaho to join other states in calling for a convention to propose a balanced budget amendment. As with amendments proposed by Congress, any amendment coming from a convention would have to be ratified by three-quarters of the states.

While researching this issue, however, McKenzie found that Congress doesn’t maintain a list of the Article V applications it receives. They’re published in the Congressional Record, but not actively tracked.

“That seems to me like a huge dereliction of its constitutional duty,” he said. “If they don’t track the applications, then they can’t call a convention once two-thirds of the states get there.”

McKenzie introduced a joint memorial Wednesday, calling on Congress to keep an accurate list of Article V applications and to maintain it in a form that’s easily accessible to the public.

The Senate State Affairs Committee, which McKenzie leads, agreed to introduce the memorial. The legislation will come back to the committee for a public hearing.

McKenzie also plans to introduce two related bills. One calls for a constitutional convention specifically to address a balanced budget amendment. The other would prohibit Idaho delegates to such a convention from debating any other amendments.

Similar legislation has been introduced the past three sessions. It’s been unsuccessful in part because of concerns about a “runaway convention” — one that exceeds its initial mandate and proposes multiple, dramatic changes to the Constitution.

Because of these fears, lawmakers adopted a concurrent resolution in 1999 that repealed and nullified all previous Article V applications approved by the Idaho Legislature.

The resolution noted that former U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger and other constitutional scholars “agree (a constitutional convention) may propose sweeping changes to the Constitution, (notwithstanding) any limitations or restrictions purportedly imposed by the states … thereby creating an imminent peril to the well-established rights of citizens.”

The 1999 measure rescinded at least eight previous Idaho applications, including a call for the direct election of U.S. senators and the president; an amendment that would have allowed state legislatures to be apportioned themselves using something other than the one-man, one-vote standard; a right-to-life amendment; and a 1979 balanced budget amendment that would have capped the federal debt at $350 billion, or about one-fiftieth of its current level.

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