Barring the unforeseen, the state House will not vote this year on legislation to place Michigan in an interstate compact petitioning for a federal balanced budget amendment. The measure appears to lack sufficient votes in the House Financial Liability Reform Committee, making it unlikely that the bill will reach the House floor before the New Year.

Senate Bill 306 was passed by the Senate with a 26-11 vote on Sept. 17. The legislation would authorize Michigan’s membership in a Compact for a Balanced Budget. According to MichiganVotes.org, the bill would “use the device of a multistate compact to submit an application to Congress calling for an Article V convention to propose amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Under the compact, the convention would be limited to proposing an amendment prohibiting Congress from increasing the national debt” unless a majority of state legislatures approved the additional debt.

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"Considering the nearly incalculable debt that’s mounting in Washington, D.C., this legislation is about nothing less than our national fiscal security,” said Leon Drolet, the state policy director of the Compact for a Balanced Budget Commission. “The fate of Senate Bill 306 will determine whether the state of Michigan is going to be part of the problem or part of the solution. Voters across the board are increasingly feeling a sense of urgency and displaying a growing intolerance toward lawmakers who are unwilling to take action on this issue.”

With six Republicans and three Democrats on the committee, five of the Republicans would need to support Senate Bill 306 for it to be sent to the full House for consideration. Two of the committee's Republicans, Rep. Eric Leutheuser of Hillsdale and Rep. Earl Poleski of Jackson, are currently not willing to vote yes.

Leutheuser said he needs more time to study the ramifications of the bill.

“More time is needed to look at this very complicated issue before I’d be willing to vote ‘yes.’” Leutheuser said. “I just don’t believe this is something that should be done within the bubble of having only 10 days left on this year’s legislative calendar.”

Meanwhile, Poleski said he has pretty much made up his mind and opposes the bill.

“My concerns involve a couple of things,” Poleski said. “We just passed another Article V [balanced budget] resolution that was something like this last session and to turn around and pass another one seems to me would be a bit redundant. I am also concerned about the very specific language concerning the compact process. I believe there’s always a level of uncertainty involved with any political process and — to me — this resolution is unduly inflexible.”

The Legislature approved a similar measure calling for a convention of the states on a balanced budget amendment last session (only to see it vetoed by Gov. Rick Snyder). The compact idea embodied by Senate Bill 306 is designed to expedite the process and define more explicitly what the states are seeking. The compact would only take effect after 38 states have signed on. Alaska, Georgia, Mississippi and North Dakota have already done so and other states appear poised to join them.

According to Rep. Pat Somerville, a Republican from New Boston who chairs the House Financial Liability Reform Committee, there has never been much momentum among committee members for advancing the bill by year's end.

“There wasn’t sufficient support for this in the committee,” Somerville said. “But beyond that, I’d say that the overall temperature so far just hasn’t been right. There was no sense that this was a major priority at this time, especially after having already passed the other Article V resolution last year.”

Senate Bill 306 may be stalled, but that doesn’t mean it’s dead. The committee could take it up again in 2016, and with Republican primary elections approaching, the incentives to do so may seem stronger.

“Committee Chair Somerville should be commended for the support he has given Senate Bill 306 and the hearings that have been held on the legislation,” Drolet said. “We understand that there some committee members who still have questions they feel need to be discussed. We’re looking forward to continuing to work with the committee and answer their questions.”

Bills can be taken up by the full House without committee action by means of a discharge motion. This contingency is usually restricted to only certain circumstances and situations, however. Generally, legislation that a committee fails to adopt eventually dies in the committee.

There is a nuanced debate about how to work for a federal balanced budget. Nick Dranias, president of the Compact for America, makes the case for "Why Michigan Should Compact for a Federal Balanced Budget Amendment."


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