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KEEPING HOUSE 2/14/2011

The state of Utah is required by the Utah Constitution to operate on a balanced budget. Each year, the state can spend only the amount of revenue it collects.

Utah operates well under this system, having been named the best-managed state in the nation for two years running.

The U.S. federal government is not subject to this type of budget restriction. Deficit spending has been common at the national level for decades, but has greatly accelerated in recent years.

Between 2001 and 2011, the national debt more than doubled, from $6 trillion to more than $14 trillion. Economists project that, at current rates of spending, within 5 to 10 years the majority of all federal tax dollars collected will be spent simply to pay for interest on the national debt.

As I meet with constituents in my legislative district, the level of federal spending is probably the single greatest concern that I hear. Most citizens realize that if our federal government continues to spend large amounts of money it does not have, we and our children will literally be unable to earn enough money to repay the debt without drastic changes in our standard of living.

This past week in the Utah Legislature, a committee I sit on considered a measure that attempts to halt the growth in federal deficit spending.

House Joint Resolution 14 is a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would prohibit an increase in the federal debt ceiling unless approved by a majority of the state legislatures in the country. The proposal is intended to make Congress operate under the same budget rules that are in place for most states.

Amending the United States Constitution is a rare and momentous event. Since the time the Bill of Rights was adopted in 1791, just 17 amendments have been added, with only one adopted in the past 40 years.

There are only two methods available to amend the U.S. Constitution: (1) Congress can propose an amendment by a two-thirds vote of both houses; or (2) the legislatures of two-thirds of the states (34 states) can apply to Congress to hold an amendments convention for the purpose of proposing amendments.

In either case, any amendment that is proposed must then be ratified by the legislatures of three-fourths of the states (38 states).

The first method, in which Congress originates a proposed amendment, is the only method that has been successfully used in our history. States have attempted to use the second method at various times, but the attempt has either fallen short or else has resulted in Congress simply proposing the amendment itself.

Many people believe that Congress is unlikely to adopt measures on its own to control its spending or curtail its power.

State legislatures have therefore become very active lately in advocating the need for states to exercise the authority given them by the Constitution to propose and adopt amendments without Congress's blessing.

One persistent objection that has been raised to the idea of states applying for an amendments convention is that the results of such a convention might be worse than the problems the convention is designed to solve.

Critics have argued that the amendments convention could degenerate into a subversion of the Constitution, completely rewriting or even discarding substantial portions of our nation's charter. These commentators point out that the Constitution is largely silent on the rules and procedures that would govern an amendments convention.

The debate between those who see the amendments convention as a promising mechanism and those who view it as a grave danger was on full display in the Utah Legislature this week.

After two full hours of testimony and discussion, the House Government Operations Committee split five-to-five on the vote to send the application for an amendments convention to Congress to restrict the federal debt ceiling. Consequently, the proposal failed to move on to the full Utah House of Representatives.

Following several days of difficult study and ambivalence, I ultimately voted in committee to support the proposed amendments convention.

My reasoning is that the imbalance of power between the states and the federal government is so great, and the virtually-unlimited reach of Congressional action today is so overbearing, that nearly any result of a convention initiated by the states would be an improvement over the current situation.

But many citizens, including several of my constituents and friends, disagree with me and view the amendments convention as an event to be avoided at all costs. I respect their opinions as I hope they respect mine.

As always, please feel free to contact me to express your thoughts pertaining to the legislative session, which runs through March 10.

My email address is kraigpowell@utah.gov and my phone number is 435-657-0185.

BY REPRESENTATIVE KRAIG POWELL   02/14/2011



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