The States Are Poised to Lead the Nation toward Fiscal Sustainability
On November 8, the American people spoke loudly and clearly. Their resounding post-election message was Washington is hopelessly broken and new approaches to meeting the nation’s challenges must be developed and championed. Already leaning toward fiscal responsibility, state legislative chambers became even more robustly conservative creating a “perfect storm” for the States to take the lead on one of the most pervasive problems facing America –the ever-expanding national debt.
At almost $20 trillion and climbing rapidly, the national debt is one of America’s gravest challenges. Projected to rise to 131 percent of GDP over the next 25 years, it restricts the nation’s ability to respond to fiscal crises and jeopardizes the solvency of the Social Security program. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the national debt alone could reduce American incomes by $6,000 per person during a period when the growing income gap among our citizens is a crisis in and of itself. The debt is greeted with great concern by American leaders from both ends of the political spectrum, and one of the most striking comments was made by former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen, USN (ret.) who described it as “the most significant threat to our national security.”
The national debt has long been a source of great concern to those of us familiar with state budgetary policies. Nearly all states are required by their constitutions to balance their budgets, and a federal government where uncontrolled deficits and a ballooning federal debt has become the new normal increasingly alarms state lawmakers. Fortunately, our Founding Fathers foresaw the possibility the country they were creating would one day face challenges that only the states would have the political courage to address. Therefore they incorporated within Article V of the U.S. Constitution – a method for states to propose constitutional amendments bypassing Congress.
There has been a quiet but steady movement in America’s 50 laboratories of innovation to compel Congress to call such a convention to propose a constitutional amendment requiring in the absence of a national emergency, total federal appropriations made by Congress for any fiscal year may not exceed the total of all estimated federal revenues for that fiscal year – a federal balanced budget. One of these efforts has resulted in the submission of 28 of the 34 state applications necessary to compel the U.S. Congress to call an amendments convention to propose a balanced budget amendment. The 2016 election heralded conservative majorities in several key state legislative chambers easing the path for the adoption of Article V applications by the six additional states needed. An amendments convention would be limited to consideration of a single topic and just like any other proposed amendment any resulting proposal would still have to meet the 38-state ratification threshold in order to be adopted as an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The post-election political landscape also provided the nation with enough conservative majorities in the states to pave the way for the 38-state ratification.
The American people articulated that the nation is on the wrong path and that robust measures are needed to right the country’s course, and one of the most frightening instances of our national veering off course is the national debt. It threatens every aspect of the country’s well-being from our fiscal health, to our national security status to our ability to honor our commitments to and provide a social safety net to the most vulnerable of American citizens. The election has given us the gift of state lawmakers and leaders who understand the importance of fiscal sustainability. Let us not squander this gift and exercise the resolve needed to bolster our nation’s economic foundation.