The Richmond Register

State News

February 23, 2011

State lawmakers call for constitutional convention

FRANKFORT — With U.S. Sen. Rand Paul leading the cheers, the state Senate on Tuesday passed a resolution calling for a limited constitutional convention to pass a federal balanced budget amendment.

The vote was 22-16 — Republican Sen. Julie Denton of Louisville joined the 15 Democrats in opposing the measure — on the measure sponsored by Senate President and Republican candidate for governor David Williams. The vote followed Paul’s speech to the body and his earlier remarks to the Senate State Government Committee.

The resolution must be passed by the House to have the effect of law, but that’s unlikely.

“We’ll have it when pigs fly,” said House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg. “The constitutional convention concept is an unconventional, untried process to go down.”

Paul, elected last fall with substantial support of the Tea Party on a platform focused almost exclusively on runaway federal spending and the growing national debt, returned to his familiar themes that federal spending and debt are “unsustainable” and the country is “headed toward financial ruin.”

Democrats — and surprisingly perhaps some of Paul’s strongest supporters and allies on most fiscal matters — opposed the resolution fearing a national constitutional convention might become a “runaway convention” making wholesale revisions and, as Sen. R. J. Palmer, D-Winchester, put it, attacking cherished constitutional rights.

The U.S. Constitution provides two methods of amendment: a two-thirds majority vote of both chambers of congress followed by ratification by three-fourths of the state — or through a convention called by two-thirds (34) of the states. Three-fourths of the states would then have to ratify any amendment or amendments proposed by the convention. The second method has never been used.

Several spectators in the crowd during the committee meeting wore “No Con Con” t-shirts (no constitutional convention), including several Paul supporters and Tea Party members.

Mica Sims of Lexington said she wants a balanced budget amendment, but she wants it passed through Congress rather than risk a constitutional convention addressing other areas of the constitution.

“It’s a Pandora’s Box. It really is,” said Sims who supported Paul in his Senate race and supports one of Williams’ opponents, Phil Moffett, in the Republican primary for governor. “We want a balanced budget amendment, but this not the way to do it.”

Moffett also opposes the convention route and held a press conference in the rotunda to voice his opposition to a convention.

But Williams said the language of the resolution limits what the convention could address. He and Paul later said they would “prefer” the 22 states that have already passed such resolutions go back and revise them to include the restrictive language. Williams said the restrictive language distinguishes his resolution from the others, presumably meaning it has the support of only one state, Kentucky, and will serve as a “model” for the rest of the country.

But Sen. Ray Jones, D-Pikeville, said once a convention is called, there is no legal authority or precedent to prevent it from offering amendments on other areas or rights guaranteed by the constitution.

“Once the genie’s out of the bottle — when the constitutional convention is convened — you can’t put it back in the bottle,” Jones said.

Most of the opponents, including the Democratic Senate caucus, said they support a balanced budget and an amendment to ensure it. But not everyone.

Sen. Walter Blevins, D-Morehead, pointed out that Kentucky receives roughly $1.51 million in federal benefits for every $1 it pays in federal taxes. And Jason Bailey, director of the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, told the committee Tuesday morning that had such an amendment been in place in 2009, “Congress would have had to abolish every single discretionary spending program.”

He said sound fiscal policy is to balance budgets not on a yearly basis but on economic cycles, paying down debt in good times but using deficit spending during recessions to stabilize the economy.

Sen. Kathy Stein, D-Lexington, suggested the debate Tuesday on the Senate floor was more about the governor’s election than constitutional principles.

“The political theater today has something to do with the fact we have an election this year,” Stein said.

Sen. Robin Webb, D-Grayson, called the amendment “playing chicken with Congress,” and Paul and Williams didn’t entirely dispute that notion. Both told the committee Tuesday they don’t think such a convention will ever be called —– that fear of such a convention will force Congress to act on the idea.

But Paul said in the absence of Congressional action, he supports the convention option.

Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at rellis@cnhi.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.

 

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