ATLANTA -- Georgia would become the 19th state to call for a federal constitutional convention to pass a balanced-budget amendment under legislation announced Thursday by a pair of conservative Republicans.
Sen. Bill Cowsert of Athens, the Senate sponsor, said federal spending has escalated over the years to where each American taxpayer’s share of the debt has swelled to more than $138,000.
“It’s time for the United States government to get its financial house in order,” he said, quoting surveys showing the measure has broad public support.
Rep. Andy Welch of McDonough, the House sponsor, said he has bipartisan support among the 59 cosponsors.
It would take 34 states passing similar resolutions to trigger a convention. Georgia was one of 33 to pass resolutions calling for a convention that ran out of time in the 1980s.
A majority vote of the Georgia House and Senate are all that’s needed to get Gov. Nathan Deal’s signature and add it to the 18 states that have passed the current convention call. Georgia lawmakers would instruct the state’s convention delegates to only make the one change to the Constitution requiring spending to be limited to the taxes collected, except in times of natural emergency.
That constitutional change would still have to be ratified by three-fourths of the states.
Some constitutional scholars have warned that a convention to revise one part of the Constitution could result in a wholesale rewriting of it. That’s what happened in 1787 when the states sent delegates to tinker with the wording of the Articles of Confederation that governed the country following independence.
An update of the Constitution would likely include thorny issues like gay marriage and abortion, and some supporters of a balanced budget aren’t sure they would like the way modern delegates might approach those topics.
Welch dismissed those concerns.
“What are we more afraid of, a congress that fails to act (on balancing the budget) or a country that fails to act to preserve that liberty?” he said. “I’d be more afraid of the current status quo and the indebted servitude of our future generations more so than having a convention and a robust debate.”
Cowsert said the safeguard against a runaway convention is the approval process required of whatever it does.
“Any amendment to the Constitution would have to be ratified by the states,” he said. “So, I don’t see that as a realistic concern.”
Opponents of a balanced budget argue that deficit spending by the federal government is a needed tool to stimulate the economy during recessions and make infrastructure investments that have long-term payoffs. Cowsert disagrees that deficits can spark economic activity, noting that 49 states have to balance their budgets and that the public accepted painful budget cuts Georgia made in recent years to do it.
“The public understands it’s in the state’s general welfare to make cuts,” he said.