Macon senator pushing to rein in federal spending

mlee@macon.comJanuary 14, 2014 

ATLANTA -- State Sen. Cecil Staton says there are some serious problems with the federal government, and he has filed a proposal that puts Georgia at the front of a national campaign to change the U.S. Constitution.

“The United States Congress has clearly demonstrated that they are unwilling to control their spending,” said Staton, R-Macon, and sponsor of Senate Resolution 736.

The resolution calls for several amendments to the Constitution, including federal spending limits.

“Since Congress refuses to be fiscally responsible on their own, it is time for the states to pass an amendment that ensures the protection of our financial interests,” Staton said.

State legislatures have the power to band together and demand such changes under Article V of the Constitution. But it’s something that’s never been done in the 226-year life of the document.

“The Founding Fathers were pretty common-sense people. They knew that there might be an occasion when the federal government got out of control. ... They wanted to give the states a way to check that,” said Michael Farris, constitutional attorney and head of the Convention of States Project, the group that’s coordinating the push.

Georgia is among the first of five states to consider an Article V resolution, according to the organization, and it could be the first to pass it. In another 11 states, their search for sponsors is well underway or finished.

At least 34 states must pass resolutions on the same topic to form an Article V convention. The Convention of States Project is aiming to get that done in two to three years.

If such a convention happens, three-fourths of the states’ legislatures would have to approve amendments before they could be written into the Constitution.

Staton’s resolution leaves details to the convention it’s trying to call. The resolution asks for constitutional amendments that would restrain federal spending, limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal governments and impose term limits, but it doesn’t speak about numbers or the language of amendments.

“Obviously we would like to get a convention to rein in the federal government,” said state Sen. Burt Jones, R-Jackson. “We’re required to pass a balanced budget” in Georgia, he said, while Washington, D.C., is not.

It’s a much broader task than a resolution the Senate passed last year, which sought a federal balanced budget amendment.

Staton said a balanced budget amendment has a pitfall: Washington might simply raise taxes to pay the bills.

State Sen. David Lucas, D-Macon, has different priorities.

“I ain’t got time for that,” he said, then turned the conversation to the proposed Renaissance on the River project. He said he’s looking for a way that the state Legislature could reboot the $90 million initiative in downtown Macon, now stalled by environmental permitting.

Staton’s bill has heavyweight co-sponsors such as state Senate President Pro Tem David Shafer, R-Duluth, and state Senate Majority Leader Ronnie Chance, R-Tyrone.

But the House may take it a little slower.

“A lot of the organizations that support those initiatives have worked very hard this summer,” House Majority Leader Larry O’Neal, R-Bonaire, said. “But I’m not sure yet how strong those efforts will be” in the Legislature, he added.

O’Neal also said he’s not sure how much the ideas have taken root in his district.

The COS Project may be the strongest, but it isn’t the only group seeking an Article V convention.

Wolf PAC, a Los Angeles-based political action committee, wants to start financing elections publicly, among other proposals. Call a Convention was founded by Harvard Law and Leadership Professor Lawrence Lessig, an active writer on government corruption.

The COS Project is part of Citizens for Self-Governance, an Austin, Texas-based nonprofit. Citizens for Self-Governance is led by Mark Meckler, a co-founder and previous national coordinator of the Tea Party Patriots.

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