AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine should join a national movement for a constitutional convention in support of a federal balanced budget amendment, said Gov. Paul LePage on Thursday.
LePage was buoyed by a visit Thursday from fellow Republican Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, one of the loudest proponents of the convention, which would be called in accordance with Article V of the U.S. Constitution.
Kasich is a former member of Congress and was chairman of the House Budget Committee from 1995 until 2001. There, he was one of the architects of the Balanced Budget Act of 1997. Kasich has long said that a balanced budget amendment was necessary to instill a permanent sense of fiscal prudence in Washington, where national debt has reached $18 trillion and counting.
“Without the balanced budget requirement, presidents are going to come and presidents are going to go and the debt will keep growing,” Kasich told reporters during a joint news conference in LePage’s Cabinet room. “We need to change the culture of that town [Washington, D.C.].”
Such a convention would be the first of its kind in more than 200 years, since the 1787 convention in Philadelphia that resulted in the creation of the Constitution.
Senate President Michael Thibodeau, R-Winterport, will propose a joint resolution in the Maine Legislature to have Maine join the 27 other states, including New Hampshire, to sign on to such a convention.
LePage said the convention was necessary because the nation “suffers from an enormous debt that is going to prevent future Americans, your children, my children, our grandchildren, from experiencing the American dream as we know it.”
State legislatures are not able to spend more money than they receive in tax revenue and other fees, but that limitation does not exist at the federal level. Republicans in Congress and nationwide have pushed for an amendment that would create a balanced-budget requirement for the federal government, but have so far been unsuccessful.
Enter Article V of the U.S. Constitution, which allows three-quarters of states to call for a convention, circumventing Congress to draft an amendment and send it directly to the states for ratification. Such a convention would require the support of 34 state legislatures. To date, 27 states have already signed on.
Ohio Senate President Keith Faber, who joined Kasich in Maine, said the reason the convention is necessary is obvious: “I don’t think there are many people that believe D.C. is not dysfunctional. Because they are unwilling to do the right thing, it’s time for states to act.”
Kasich has been touring the nation since January to push for a convention to be called under Article V of the U.S. Constitution, which allows states to circumvent Congress and put a constitutional amendment out for ratification themselves.
Ohio became the 20th state to join the call for a constitutional convention in 2013, and Kasich has been one of the movement’s loudest voices.
Critics of the balanced budget amendment contend that it would destabilize the nation by forcing drastic budget cuts or higher taxes to balance the books in bad times, such as during recessions or wars. LePage didn’t dismiss those concerns but said he felt language could be included in any amendment that would anticipate “extreme” scenarios.
Before Kasich and LePage spoke to reporters, Democrats and others were already firing off missives critical of the amendment and of the constitutional convention.
Maine House Speaker Mark Eves, a Democrat from North Berwick, said in a written statement that lawmakers here should “get our state back on track, not grandstand on political gimmicks that will cripple our economy and critical investment in our future.”
The Maine Center for Economic Policy, a left-leaning think tank, said a constitutional convention could quickly go off the rails, because any number of policy proposals pitched by delegates — not just those involving a balanced federal budget — would be on the table.
The Maine Center for Economic Policy’s executive director, Garrett Martin, called it “an unprecedented, radical political gambit that threatens our Constitution and the protections it affords Americans.”
Kasich said he wasn’t concerned about a “runaway convention.”
“Anything that comes out of a constitutional convention has to be ratified by 38 states” before it was enshrined in law, he said. “The way things are going today, I’m not sure 38 states would ratify Mother’s Day.”
As for Eves, Kasich met with the House speaker after speaking with media, but a spokeswoman for Eves said the meeting did not change the Democrats’ opinion of the balanced budget amendment.
“Nice guy, bad idea,” Eves said after the meeting.
Maine’s 2nd U.S House District Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Republican, also supports the balanced budget amendment. In January, he used his first-ever speech in Congress to advocate for the plan.
Kasich’s balanced budget tour has also helped cement his national profile ahead of an expected bid for the GOP’s 2016 presidential nod. On Tuesday, Kasich was in New Hampshire, where the honor of holding the first presidential primary in the nation makes the state a must-stop location for White House hopefuls.
Kasich said Thursday he had not yet decided whether he’d run for president.
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.