On the Stimulus, Sanford Ups the Ante

Just as the kerfuffle had settled down over Republican governors rejecting stimulus money for unemployment benefits, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford broadened the debate. The ...
by | March 11, 2009
 

Just as the kerfuffle had settled down over Republican governors rejecting stimulus money for unemployment benefits, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford broadened the debate. The Greenville News has the latest:

COLUMBIA -- Gov. Mark Sanford wants to use $700 million in federal stimulus money available for South Carolina to pay down state debt and unfunded liabilities.

According to a letter sent by Sanford to legislators and circulated Tuesday at the Statehouse, Sanford is asking President Barack Obama for permission to spend the stimulus funds that the governor has some authority over to pay down state debts and liabilities instead of on the budget.

Absent that approval, Sanford has told lawmakers, he doesn't believe the state should accept the money, arguing it will only expand debt and cause the state more problems in two years, when the stimulus funding stops.

It's pretty clear that paying down unfunded liabilities isn't what Congress and the Obama administration had in mind when they passed the stimulus. If they wanted to do that, there are plenty of federal unfunded liabilities they could have targeted. So, does this mean we're going to see a confrontation between the White House and Sanford?

Perhaps not. South Carolina legislators appear as though they're going to move forward with accepting the stimulus money, regardless of what their governors says. From the State:

State lawmakers, who are planning the state's $6 billion budget around spending stimulus cash to shore up health care and education, said they will go around the governor to request the money. The S.C. House speaker characterized the governor's opposition to the stimulus money as disingenuous.

The House voted 108-8 on Tuesday to accept the federal money, and Ways and Means chairman Dan Cooper, R-Anderson, said the budget includes language making clear their intention the take the federal money. If Sanford rejects the money, the Legislature would have until April 3 to request the funds.

As a result, it seems likely that Sanford's move will end up being more symbolic than anything else. But, it is interesting that there are now three tiers of Republican governors: Those who accepted the stimulus money in its entirety, those who only rejected the unemployment money and Sanford, who appears unwilling to spend a broader swath of money.

I don't really think these distinctions will have a huge impact on the 2012 presidential race -- we'll probably have fresher topics to argue about by then. Still, Sanford is proving once again that he's not afraid of lonely fights, which makes him an interesting politician to watch in the months ahead.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com

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