Purpose of the Convention

Fear of the process

Over the last thirty years, there has been movement to convene a convention to propose a balanced budget amendment to the United States Constitution pursuant to Article V. While the American people overwhelmingly want a balanced budget amendment, the effort to convene a convention has met with resistance because of the lack of knowledge of how the convention will function.

Many groups which oppose an amendment convention claim that since there are "no rules" for a convention, the convention can do anything it desires once convened. They suggest that the convention can propose any amendment it desires and force the amendments upon the people by somehow changing the ratification process. Some have claimed the convention can unilaterally tear up the Bill of Rights and create a new Constitution.

Such claims have no merit as history provides evidence that a convention to propose a balanced budget amendment can only focus on a balanced budget amendment and typical rules for a convention of states are well documented.

Providing clarity to the process

The Arizona BBA Planning Convention is being called to prepare rules of procedure and to recommend to Congress criteria for the location of a future convention for proposing a balanced budget amendment pursuant to Article V of the Constitution.

Upon receiving applications from 34 states to call a convention limited to the subject of a balanced budget amendment, Congress shall “call a convention” for such. Presently the effort to secure the 34 states is approaching that threshold. Since there has never been a convention to propose an amendment to the Constitution, it is appropriate and necessary the states convene to discuss and recommend the rules of procedure for such a convention.

The Arizona BBA Planning Convention is a “convention of the states” but not a convention to propose a balanced budget amendment. It is not being called under any provision of the Constitution. It is a formal, national convention of the states being called in the tradition established over our 300 year history beginning with colonial American stretching through the 1920’s.

There have been more than 38 national and regional conventions of the states prior to and since our founding. The last national convention was called by the Virginia legislature and was held in 1861 in Washington, DC. It was called to discuss an amendment to the United States Constitution regarding slavery to head off the Civil War.

The last known convention of the states was the “Upper Colorado River Basin Compact Commission” at which five states convened in the 1940's to negotiate a compact covering the Upper Colorado River. For more information regarding previous conventions, go to History of Conventions.

A “convention of the states” is a formal gathering of the states. Its formality is created as a result of a state legislature (Congress in the case of an Article V amendment convention) approving legislation calling the convention for a specific subject and inviting the several states to send a delegation to participate. States are not obligated to attend.

A convention of the states can only recommend or propose a future action be taken either by the states or the Federal government. It has no authority to change any law or the Constitution. A convention to propose a balanced budget amendment called under Article V can therefore only recommend, propose an amendment to the Constitution.

Since both the Arizona convention and a convention to propose a balanced budget amendment called pursuant to Article V of the Constitution are “conventions of the states,” the organizational structure of each is similar.

Pursuant to HCR 2022, each state is invited to send a delegation to the Arizona convention. Each state may decide the size of its delegation (not fewer than three but not more than seven is recommended). The convention will convene with each state having one vote.

Typically for a convention of the states, a legislature will pass a resolution to determine the size of its delegation, how it will be chosen, and what specific instructions the delegation will be given when representing the state. HCR 2022 provides that in the absence of a resolution, the majority leadership of both houses of the legislature may jointly select a delegation.

Interest in convening a convention to propose an amendment has been keen among a large number of state legislators for a long time. As a result, over the last four years, several groups and organizations have prepared suggested rules of procedures for an Article V amendment convention.

While their work is appreciated, the rules created vary in content and detail and none of the groups had “official” authority to prepare such. The Arizona convention of the states will create an “official” recommendation of rules specific to a balanced budget amendment convention.

The rules prepared at the Arizona BBA Planning Convention are not binding upon a BBA amendment convention as any convention can only recommend an action and every convention can adopt its own rules. However, since the political composition of the states attending the Arizona convention will likely be the same or similar to that at a BBA amendment convention, it is anticipated a preponderance or all of the rules created in Arizona will be adopted at the amendment convention.

Message to Congress

One of the main reasons to hold a planning convention limited to a balanced budget amendment is to demonstrate to Congress the states are prepared and ready for a convention to propose a balanced budget amendment.

On Monday, February 27, United States Senator Orrin Hatch (UT) filed a resolution (SJR 24) for Congress to propose for ratification a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.

The following is an excerpt from Senator Hatch’s floor speech regarding the resolution:

Congress, however, is not the only way to propose constitutional amendments.  Article V of the Constitution also allows the states to apply for a convention to propose constitutional amendments.  Concerned citizens have been working since the mid-1970s to reach the two-thirds threshold for calling such a convention to propose a balanced budget amendment, and are only six states away from that goal. 

Since Congress has never called an Article V convention, questions remain unresolved and theories untested regarding that method of proposing an amendment.  I can assure my colleagues; however, that Congress’ continued failure to propose a balanced budget amendment guarantees that our fellow citizens will continue working to force that course upon us.

For many years Senator Hatch has championed a balanced budget amendment. Concluding Congress will likely not propose the amendment, he and other members of Congress have advised the BBA Task Force that the states need to create the rules for a balanced budget amendment convention and determine methods of appointing delegations to the convention, so “Congress will not attempt to do so.”

The Arizona BBA Planning Convention will satisfy these concerns of Congress.