Let’s stop fooling ourselves. Not everyone who votes against an Article V Balanced Budget Amendment is worried about a runaway convention. For some, that line is just a fig leaf. What a lot of these state legislators are afraid of is getting off the federal tit. Take a look at Wyoming, our least populous state. From 2001 to 2012 the Census Bureau says 41% of the State of Wyoming’s budget was federal money. If the feds balanced their budget Wyoming legislators know that a large chunk of that 41% will disappear. At least half. Is the Wyoming legislature prepared to cut their budget by 20%? Are they going to increase taxes to replace the federal money, perhaps adopting an income tax? They don’t want to do any of that. But they won’t admit that they fear being weaned, so you hear a lot of talk about a runaway. It’s the same story, to a slightly lesser degree, in all of our target states.*
We haven’t been able to make the sale in these states. Even if we successfully counter the runaway argument, we have to realize we still might not make the sale. The federal government has, in effect, bribed the states. So instead of trying out new sales pitches, maybe we should look at what we’re selling. It looks an awful lot like austerity. It’s bitter medicine, and it’s hard to swallow. The closer we get to 34, and the more real the prospect of austerity becomes, the harder the sale. When a product won’t sell, sometimes it’s the fault of the product.
Enter the Reagan Initiative, or, if you will, a Supply Side BBA. Federal spending consumes far too high a percentage of our national wealth. Cut spending, of course, but also increase wealth. Instead of promising painful budget cuts, put on offer prosperity. We’ve been selling vinegar. Let’s try some honey.
Half of Wyoming is owned by the federal government. If Wyoming legislators could be convinced that they’d get title to that land with a Supply Side BBA they’d take the deal. There’s a whole lot of wealth tied up in that 50% of their state, and even if they split the proceeds of development with the feds they’d still come out way ahead. It’s more or less the same with our other western targets Idaho, Arizona and Montana. We don’t get to 34 without them. If they believed they’d get their land we get them all.
So what’s in it for West Virginia, and South Carolina, and Wisconsin? Regulatory reform could save the coal industry, so West Virginia shouldn’t be a problem. Regulatory reform helps the entire country. The EPA and other federal agencies have pissed off the whole country. Anyone who has been paying attention knows that the regulatory burden is a huge drag on the economy.
The Supply Side BBA should also be easier to ratify. Purplish Washington, Oregon, New Mexico and Colorado would all get vast swaths of federal land. And regulatory reform would be popular everywhere except the deepest blue states.
The fight to ratify a Supply Side BBA would be the defining political contest of the early 21st century. The entire ruling class would fight it to their last breath. Business versus the environmentalists. K Street vs. Wall Street. Private sector versus public sector. Capitalism vs. socialism. Middle America against the coastal elites. The people vs. the government.
If the Amendment Convention embraces the Supply Side, the principal political question it must decide is whether to include tax reform. Would that help ratification or hurt it? Listen closely to the delegates from states like Maine, Minnesota and Kentucky. Their voters are the key. We don’t know the answer to this question today. It must be asked and answered when the Convention convenes.
A Supply Side BBA is not pie in the sky. Once the 34 state threshold has been met there is nothing to prevent the Amendment Convention from proposing it. If 26 states decide to give it a try, it’s a go. Start with eleven Western states that would get federal lands, and add the six sympathetic western states running south from North Dakota to Texas to get you to seventeen. Coal states and the solid south get you to 26.
The stars have aligned, and an Article V Amendment is within our grasp. How long they remain aligned is unknowable. If we’re willing to seize the moment we can completely turn this ship around, and set a new course for freedom. One Constitutional Amendment — a Supply Side BBA — can break the federal government’s stranglehold on power, restore federalism, and usher in an era of unprecedented prosperity. Why would we not?
What are we afraid of? Ourselves?
*Montana, 38%, Arizona and South Carolina, 36%, West Virginia and Idaho, 35%, Oklahoma, 34%, Wisconsin 29%.