Balanced Budget Amendments on Balance: Center Analyst Testifies with a Memoir

The Mackinac Center’s primary focus is state policy. But when the federal government has gone off the rails with its spending, debt and monumental overreach, states and state think tanks have a duty to help rein it in. 

So it was that the center’s senior legislative analyst, Jack McHugh, gave testimony at a recent hearing of the House Financial Liability Reform Committee, which was considering an innovative proposal to give states a veto over further expansions of the federal debt. It’s an amendment to the U.S. Constitution, to be advanced through a process known as an “Article Five” convention of the states.

One shortcoming of the Article Five process is its daunting procedural obstacles, which the proposal constructively addresses through a multistate compact. The measure before the committee was Senate Bill 306, which would make Michigan a member of this compact. It already passed the state Senate in a 26-11 party line vote last September.

McHugh says he wanted to add value to the committee deliberations rather than be one of “the usual people saying the usual things.” So he gave a personal view from inside the freedom movement based on 40 years of observing previous attempts to enact a balanced budget amendment. The Compact for a Balanced Budget, he said, is unique.

He explained that the movement has regarded most balanced-budget proposals as invitations to raise taxes rather than cut spending. Moreover, the idea of an Article Five convention has generated a good deal of angst among traditionalists who fear what they call a “runaway” constitutional convention.

“Having observed these proposals for 40 years,” he said, “I approach each new one with a list of potential concerns.”

“But each of those concerns were crossed off here with specific provisions that plausibly eliminate or mitigate them,” McHugh continued. “My conclusion, and based on extensive conversations with others in the movement, is that this version is worth trying. The biggest risk is for the nation to proceed on its present course unchecked.”