IF IT SURVIVES the fight in Congress, the balanced budget
amendment could die at the statehouse door in Jefferson City.
Or Springfield, Ill. Or Honolulu. Or Charleston, W. Va.
Observers say its fate would hang on ratification votes in the
legislat ures of perhaps 17 states - including Missouri and
Illinois - where the question is too close to call.
Ratification votes would begin in the states if the House and
Senate each approve an amendment by a two-thirds vote. The
amendment must be ratified by 38 states to win a place in the
The amendment would be expected to race to approval in dozens
of statehouses, then face a dogged battle in the last few states
needed for ratification.
An evaluation by the Center for the Study of the States counts
32 states as leaning toward ratifying the amendment. The South is
solidly for it, as are most of the Rocky Mountain states.
Only one state, New York, is counted a solid no. But 17 states
are rated as iffy by the center, a research group at the State
University of New York at Albany. Support is weakest in the
Arguments in the state legislatures would be expected to mirror
arguments in Congress, with one exception: Legislators would worry
more over what would happen to their state budgets if Washington
turned off the federal money spigots. Would states have to raise
taxes to build highways or care for the sick and poor?
"The first 25 states will ratify easily. But as the end gets
near, legislators will say, `Hold on here. Is this just a mechanism
to pass the buck?' " says Frank Shafroth, policy director for the
National League of Cities.
In Missouri, House Speaker Steve Gaw, D-Moberly, has no idea
how the vote might go.
"I'm concerned about how much we'll pay," says Gaw. "We'll have
to be very careful that this is not done by shifting responsibility
to the states."
Shrinking Washington's Power
However, other legislators see a balanced budget as a way to
shrink the power of Washington.
State Sen. Steven Ehlmann, R-St. Charles, notes that 40 percent
of his district is in a flood plain, and residents need a federal
permit to build.
"The federal government has taken over the local prerogative in
land use control," he said. A cash-strapped Uncle Sam might have
less weight to throw around in St. Charles, he reasons.
Also, Ehlmann likes the way Missouri's balanced budget
amendment has controlled spending. "We don't have a $3 trillion