For first time in 150 years, state lawmakers will gather to plan constitutional convention
Corrections & Clarifications: According to the national Balanced Budget Amendment Task Force, two states have recently rescinded old balanced budget resolutions. The story has been updated to reflect the latest numbers.

State leaders from around the nation will gather in Arizona this week to plan what would be the first Article V convention in American history.

The intent of the Arizona Balanced Budget Amendment Planning Convention, scheduled to begin Tuesday at the state Capitol, is to lay the groundwork for a future gathering at which state leaders propose to restrict federal spending.

According to Article V of the U.S. Constitution, states can force Congress to call a convention for proposing amendments to the U.S. Constitution if two-thirds of the states pass resolutions calling for them to do so.

"I don't think people realize the states have the power and authority to use this," said Arizona Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, chairwoman of the Arizona delegation and one of the event organizers. "The states are the closest to the people and we know what we're doing."


Arizona is among a dozen states that have passed nearly identical proposals in recent years. But more than a dozen more have passed various versions of legislation calling for conventions over the decades.

According to the national Balanced Budget Amendment Task Force coordinating the effort, 27 states have approved qualifying resolutions. They hope the final seven, plus a couple extra, could do so over the next year.

The effort was a hot topic this summer at the American Legislative Exchange Council, where mostly Republican lawmakers gather with business leaders to develop model legislation.

"The Article V movement is gaining momentum," Townsend said. "We may see an Article V convention in the next few years. And what a waste if they had to waste time setting rules."

Restricting spending

The wording of any proposed constitutional amendment would be decided during an Article V convention, and the focus would likely be on requiring Congress to pass a balanced budget each year.

Townsend said an amendment could also allow a step-by-step move toward that goal.

"I don't think you can suddenly say, 'Have a balanced budget or else,' " she said. "But something has to be done. We are almost to $20 trillion (in national debt) and that's unfathomable."

House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, R-Mesa, said the proposed amendment could include a requirement of a two-thirds vote by Congress in order to raise taxes, as is required of the Arizona Legislature.

It could also require a majority of states to sign off before Congress raises the debt ceiling. "That would require a broader conversation than is now just happening in Washington," he said.

Once an amendment is developed, three-fourths of the states would then have to ratify it for it to become part of the Constitution.

This process has never been used in America's history to propose an amendment to the Constitution. All 27 amendments to the U.S. Constitution were proposed by Congress.

Runaway concerns

There is concern among some, including conservative Republicans, that such a convention is a potential Pandora's box. Once a convention is called, states aren't limited to the balanced-budget issue.

They could change anything they want in the Constitution.

University of Arizona law Professor David Marcus testified before the Legislature against the convention earlier this year, saying the lack of established rules for such a convention guarantees problems.

"The result will be a disaster," he said. "I hate to think of the worst-case scenario. At best, the fight over every step along the way would consume our country's political oxygen for years."

University of Arizona constitutional law Professor Toni Massaro also testified against the idea before the Legislature.

"I believe it's a time for constitutional sobriety. It's a time to keep our powder dry and not to move on an uncharted course. We are not the founding fathers," she said. "This would be disastrous."

Republican U.S. Rep. Andy Biggs, the former Arizona Senate president, wrote an entire book about such concerns, "The Con of the Con Con." (The book's title abbreviates Constitutional Convention.) While in state office, Biggs blocked for years the Arizona resolution calling for a convention.

Biggs has said the solution to Congress' spending problem is electing the right leaders (LMAO!) , not creating a new amendment.
'Here are the rules'

Supporters say the point of the Phoenix planning convention is to address such concerns by setting rules for an Article V convention. Those rules could include narrowing the focus, as well as establishing how many votes each state gets and other procedural issues.

"What this is trying to do is say if there is ever an Article V convention, here are the rules. Here's how it's going to work," Mesnard said.

Townsend said the rules won't be binding, but will be presented to the participants of the Article V convention.

"The rules crafted by these official delegates will be the most legitimate so far," she said.

She said there are numerous checks and balances in the process to prevent a runaway convention. The convention would be called on a specific topic, she said.

"If a delegate goes off the rails, they can recall them," she said. "If they get the votes to make something happen, Congress can say it's not germane."

And anything that is proposed, she said, would require approval from 38 states, which she said would likely be impossible for an issue that was too partisan.

"You don't have 38 red states or 38 blue states," she said. "There are steps to prevent what people are afraid of."

Planning history

Even this planning convention is historic. The last such gathering of officially-appointed state officials occurred more than 150 years ago.

At the Washington Peace Conference in 1861, delegates gathered in a final effort to prevent the Civil War. The resulting constitutional amendment proposal offered a compromise on the legality of slavery.

It was voted down in Congress.

Mesnard said he's not sure how many states will participate in the planning convention. So far, at least a dozen states are expected to attend, Townsend said.

"But the more states that are there, the more credible it will be," he said. "It's one more brick on the pathway toward getting to an Article V convention."

http://www.azcentral.com/story/news/...ona/618218001/