Sanford left scratching head after stimulus controversy

John O'Brien Jun. 9, 2009, 4:24pm

COLUMBIA, S.C. (Legal Newsline) - South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford's recent experience with federal stimulus funds left him wondering what role state governments play in the Obama administration.

Sanford officially requested $700 million in federal funds after initially refusing, forced to do so by his state's Legislature and Supreme Court. He appeared on the Glenn Beck Program on Fox News Monday.

Part of the federal stimulus package required him to spend the $700 million on education programs.

"I mean, why have a state legislative body? Why have a governor at a local level? Why have county council? Why have folks at the, you know, at the municipal level if Washington is deciding it all?" Sanford, a Republican, said.

Some governors first shied away from accepting the funds, but Sanford took his refusal further than any of them.

"In this case, what they were doing was they're basically deciding what our financial statement would look like in 24 months," he said.

"Because with the stimulus package, when we spend it all, does in total, is to dig us a $1 billion hole 24 months from now, which we thought to be tremendously problematic, and now, on top of that, it prevented some restructuring, in our case, that was long overdue as a state."

Two students filed suit against Sanford, who would not accept the funds unless they would be used to fix the state's debt. Sanford wanted lawmakers to pledge an equal amount of the budget to help plug the state's debt if he used the funds on education programs. Lawmakers overrode Sanford's veto of the proposed budget in May

"Under South Carolina law, the General Assembly has the sole authority to direct the appropriation of funds and, therefore, is the entity which decides whether the State desires to receive the funds," the South Carolina Supreme Court wrote Thursday.

"In its appropriation of the (State Fiscal Stabilization) funds in the budget and its concurrent resolution, the General Assembly has acted on the Governor's §1607(a) certification and expressed the State's desire to receive the funds.

"At this stage in the process, the Governor certainly has no discretion to make a contradictory decision on behalf of the State. We hold the Governor must apply for the SFS funds."

Later in the interview, Beck referenced Sanford's "Why have a governor" comment, to which Sanford responded:

"Now, if a hurricane hits this fall, they'll want me to make all kinds of decisions that won't be so nice, but when it comes to grabbing large chunks of money that Washington has left on the table, what they have said is, 'We don't want a governor and we're going to decide it for you. We're going to do it differently than it's done in 49 other states in this country,' where in every instance in those 49 states, the executive branch has control over this portion of the money - which in our state represents about $700 million...

"Because anybody in politics wants to have a good day if they can. And the way you have a good day in politics is not to make a tough decision. If you didn't get the money, we would have to make a lot of long overdue decisions with regard to restructuring outdated and inefficient programs in the state government. And instead, this federal money allows us for us to pay for it and deal with another - you know, those tough decisions another day."

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