In 1975 the campaign to adopt a Balanced Budget through Article V was started by Democratic state legislators in Maryland and Mississippi. Until 1983, when Alaska became the 32nd state, it was truly bipartisan. The Alaska Senate, where I served, was controlled by Democrats, and the sponsor of the BBA Resolution was Democrat Bob Ziegler of Ketchikan. There was no debate.
As the specter of an Article V convention loomed, the Democratic Party national leadership decided to kill it. In an unholy alliance with Phyllis Schlafy and the John Birch Society, the national Democrats and their union allies were able to rescind the resolutions in 16 states. Since that time, no chamber of any legislature under Democratic control has passed a BBA resolution.
The BBA campaign lay dormant for almost 30 years, until Bill Fruth and Dave Biddulph formed the Balanced Budget Amendment Task Force in 2011. At the time they expected to get some support from middle of the road Democrats, who had complete control of 27 state legislatures. But their only successes have been in Republican controlled bodies.
There are 32 such legislatures today. In 2011 there were fourteen. It is because of the turning of the political tides in 2013 that the Task Force has had the success it has. But the election of Trump the Improbable seems, at the moment, to be the peak of the tide, and it may turn back next year.
Earlier this year, Democratic majorities in New Mexico, Nevada and Maryland rescinded their BBA resolutions, which had passed in the late 1970’s. None of the 27 remaining resolutions are from states under Democratic control. The seven states needed to reach the magic number of 34 are all Republican controlled.
There are currently 32 legislatures controlled by Republicans. Maine, Washington, Alaska and Colorado are split control. If the Democrats get control of either Alaska or Colorado after the 2018 elections, (and they could), their existing BBA resolutions would almost certainly be rescinded.
It’s been a hundred years since Republicans have controlled so many legislatures, and it’s not likely to last. The Republicans in Washington, from Trump down, are hurting the Republican brand. Even though Democrats have no real agenda other than resistance, it would be foolhardy not to expect a Republican retreat in 2018.
I won’t go so far as to say it’s 2018 or bust for the BBA, but that’s where the smart money is. The Phoenix Convention of States, if it’s as successful as we hope, could give us the boost we need to get to 34 next year. We’re running out of ideas, and need help. Maybe Phoenix will convince people we’re for real.
Actually, I don’t think the Alaska Senate will lose its Republican majority. The politics of the Alaska legislature are complicated by a history of bipartisan coalitions. The current chairman of the Senate Finance Committee is Democrat Lyman Hoffman of Bethel. He is helping to lead the Senate majority in fighting reinstatement of the state income tax.
It looks as though Lyman and his colleagues will prevail, and, in my opinion, that will assure that they maintain control of the Senate.
Lyman and I served together in the Alaska House for four years, from 1986-90. We weren’t pals, as he was a tight lipped member of the majority, and I was raising hell as the minority leader. But the Alaska legislature was collegial in those days, and we played each other in the cribbage tournament in the legislative lounge.
Once the dust settles in Juneau I’ll be giving Lyman a call. We haven’t spoken in 27 years. I’ll ask him to join me in attending the Phoenix Convention. We could play a game of crib for old times sake.