Six Governors Consider Rejecting Stimulus Funds

The other day I mused about South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford rejecting money in the federal stimulus package. He's not alone, as the Associated ...
by | February 19, 2009

The other day I mused about South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford rejecting money in the federal stimulus package. He's not alone, as the Associated Press reports in an article that is getting a lot of play:

BATON ROUGE, La. - A half-dozen Republican governors are considering turning down some money from the federal stimulus package, a move opponents say puts conservative ideology ahead of the needs of constituents struggling with foreclosures and unemployment.

Though none has outright rejected the money available for education, healthcare, and infrastructure, the governors of Alaska, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas have all questioned whether the $787 billion bill signed into law this week will help the economy.

The six states on this list make sense. All have Republican governors. Three of them, Palin, Jindal and Sanford, seem to have national ambitions. The three others, Butch Otter in Idaho, Haley Barbour in Mississippi and Rick Perry in Texas, all are staunch conservatives.

What's perhaps most noteworthy about that list is who's not on it: Three potential Republican presidential aspirants. That would be Tim Pawlenty in Minnesota, Jon Huntsman in Utah and, of course, Florida's Charlie Crist, who was a big stimulus booster. This could be an interesting debate topic for 2012.

But, since it's February 2009, let's focus on the here and now. I've been trying to think of analogous rejections of federal money. If these governors do reject some of the money, it certainly won't be unprecedented. Utah, for example, voted to turn down No Child Left Behind money (I'm not sure if their funding was ever actually cut off). Many states turned down funding for abstinence-only education.

As the AP story notes, governors don't have the final say in whether their states take the money. Instead, state legislatures were explicitly given a role:

Governors who reject some of the stimulus aid may find themselves overridden by their own legislatures because of language Clyburn included in the bill that allows lawmakers to accept the federal money even if their governors object.

This provision might actually make these Republican governors more likely to reject the money. Since their legislatures can override them, they'd be able to reap the political benefits (among conservative Republicans) of having stood up to the stimulus, without necessarily risking the anger of voters in their own states who would be mad at being deprived of their fair share.

And, if one of these governors does turn down the money, I fully expect the legislature would overrule the decision. That's the sense I got, for example, from reading this article in the State:

Though they opposed the bill when it was before Congress, state Republicans said South Carolina should spend the money.

"I'm not a dummy," said Rep. Eric Bedingfield, R-Greenville. "South Carolinians are going to have as much responsibility paying that back as anyone."

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham agreed. "It would be in our best interest to take the money," Graham said. "I hope state officials can work it out."

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer

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