Should Washington Have to Balance Its Budget?
By Gina Jordan
Tallahassee, FL – Members of the Senate Judiciary committee took up a resolution and a bill this week calling for a balanced federal budget. But Gina Jordan tells us a vocal member of the committee said supporters are just playing politics.
In his remarks on the opening day of session, Senate President Jeff Atwater said the Florida Legislature is constitutionally bound to balance its budget, and the United States Congress should be no less bound to those same principles of fiscal discipline. So, the committee first took up Senate Concurrent Resolution 10 as explained by committee Chairman Joe Negron.
"We would be the twentieth state that's asked for an amendments convention on simply asking the federal government to live within its means."
The resolution urges Congress to call a convention for proposing amendments to the U-S Constitution that would provide for a balanced federal budget and limit the ability of Congress to dictate how states spend federal funds. If two-thirds of the states, thirty-four of them, ask for an amendments convention, they would be able to amend the U-S Constitution.
"This is not something that you could argue is strictly symbolic. While those things have a place, this is an actual taking action on what many Americans have concluded is irresponsible spending that can never be paid back."
Negron says most of the nation's deficit is owed to foreign countries. But Senator Dan Gelber says most of the federal debt right now is from military spending or from stimulus money, which filled big holes in Florida's budget for the current and coming fiscal year.
Gelber asked Negron, "If we have about $4-billion, Mr. Chairman, in our budget right now, and we'll have probably the same in next year's budget, if the federal government was under a balanced budget amendment and did not therefore produce the stimulus money, would Florida be able to balance its current budget on its current revenue?"
Negron replied, "If the stimulus money that came from Washington had not come, which I don't think we know for sure, even with a balanced budget amendment we still could have perhaps gotten the money, but I'll assume your hypothetical, then the Legislature would have had to make additional cuts to the budget in order to balance the budget."
Negron told the committee that each family in Florida currently has just over $100-thousand in federal debt. But because Florida has been run in what he calls a fiscally conservative manner, the state has a Triple-A bond rating, one of the highest in the country. That means lenders can expect Florida to pay back loans for big projects like schools and roads in a timely fashion.
After fifteen minutes of discussion, Senator Mike Haridopolos said, "Since we've been debating this today, the national debt has gone up around $91-billion. In case you don't have the app on your iPhone, it's right here, so I just keep track. Senator Negron, I could not agree more with you and the president as our national debt is over $13-trillion."
But Senator Gelber, a Democrat running for Attorney General, sees election year motives at play.
"There is nobody in this chamber from either side who could stand up and say here's the four billion more dollars we're going to cut out of K-12, here's the four billion dollars more we're going to cut out of healthcare. That couldn't happen, and it won't happen. So, I understand the platitudes we're debating today, but at the end of the day, I think this is just politics, and I'm not going to be a part of it, and I'll vote against this resolution and the next one."
Senator Mike Fasano responded that the stimulus dollars Florida received from the federal government were our own money because Florida is a donor state. That means the state sends more in taxes to Washington than it gets back in services, an estimated return of ninety cents on the dollar.
"Just think, just for a moment, that Washington would even consider a balanced budget. The amount of dollars that would be saved, the change in attitude by the taxpayers of this great country would be overwhelming. I think this is a great start in sending a message, a clear message to Washington. If the states can do it, if communities can do it, if the people back home can do it, they certainly should be able to do it in Washington as well."
The committee voted 7 - 2 to approve the resolution. Next up was a bill by Atwater, a Republican candidate for Chief Financial Officer, which will put the balanced federal budget question before voters in the 2010 general election. It also passed 7 - 2. A companion resolution and bill are moving through the House.