This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Q: How many Utah state senators does it take to do the right thing? A: One. And her name is Senator Luz Robles.
The Utah Legislature passed a resolution this summer urging Congress to pass a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution. This has been a pet project of U.S. Sens. Mike Lee and Orrin Hatch, along with Rep. Jason Chaffetz, in response to recent calls for the government to live "like an American family," and the recent push to "cut, cap and balance."
Although fiscal responsibility is a critically important requirement for government, it is unclear that these simple statements provide real answers in the context of a multi-trillion-dollar budget mired in defense spending, the cost of the existing debt, and safety net programs that assure adherence to the American value that all of us have the right to live with a basic level of dignity and a reasonable lack of fear.
Pushing for amendments to the Constitution is always interesting in and of itself when it comes from those who like to hold themselves out for the proposition that the Constitution is already a perfect document perhaps even divinely inspired.
To quote Scott Lilly from the Center for American Progress, "Rather than accepting responsibility for electing incompetent leaders, it is easier to blame the Constitution."
Lilly continues, "If Abraham Lincoln had allowed budget policy to be the dominant concern in his administration, the United States would today be two or more countries. If Franklin Roosevelt had weighed the need to keep the Treasury in the black with concerns about Hitler, we would belong to a very different world order. If Dwight Eisenhower had decided that the increased risk of running budget deficits should outweigh the economic benefits of the interstate highway program, we would not have the transportation backbone that allowed our economy to grow fivefold in half a century."
As Lilly implies, there is no shortage of reasons that the balanced budget amendment is a bad idea. As the Eastern seaboard was hit by an earthquake and hurricane Irene, someone on Twitter noted that under a balanced budget amendment the government would have no flexibility to respond if that response were not already a part of the budget.
Similarly, there is no shortage of reasons why the Utah Legislature has no place taking up taxpayers' time and money with this resolution particularly because it had already passed a similar resolution during the regular 2011 session. And despite the vote, plenty of reservations were noted from both sides of the aisle.
Democratic Sen. Ben McAdams tweeted "Pre-clarification is not a constitutionally recognized method for amending the constitution." House Speaker Rebecca Lockhart said, "I'm going to support this resolution, but I'm not happy doing it." Democratic Rep. David Litvak noted that the resolution is "inserting us into the quagmire of the partisan mess at our national level."
The Utah House Democrats showed collective leadership by issuing a statement that "Our work is here at home, not in Washington, D.C.," and noted several actions that would better occupy the Legislature's time than another message bill to Washington.
When the dust settled, 12 members of the House stood by their convictions and voted no. But in the Senate, only Luz Robles who had plenty of reason to "go along" had the courage to do what she knew was right.
Much like Lilly, Robles with her vote says stop blaming the Constitution and accept responsibility for electing competent leaders who will bring serious solutions to the serious fiscal problems our country faces.
Josh Kanter is an attorney and founder of the Alliance for a Better UTAH (http://www.facebook.com/betterutah).