Published Online: June 9, 2009

S.C. Governor Signs Stimulus Request, Criticizes Program

South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford requested stimulus cash for the state's schools Monday, telling the U.S. education secretary he's doing so under duress and the $700 million in bailout money will create more problems.

The request to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, sent by e-mail, caps months of Sanford's criticism of the $787 billion federal economic recovery law that raised the national political profile of the Republican Governors Association chairman and speculation of a 2012 White House bid. The state Supreme Court ordered him Thursday to follow a state budget law and request the money for the state's schools and colleges.

"First, it's important to state one last time for the record what a monumentally terrible idea I believe the entire so-called stimulus act is, and why in particular utilizing this money as our General Assembly has done is ultimately going to cause more harm than good," Sanford wrote in the letter to Duncan.

He said it leaves future taxpayers picking up the tab for today's problems and created budget problems down the road.

Sanford wanted to use the money to pay down state debt. But legislators said they needed to use the money to fill big budget holes until the economy turns around.

"I'm just glad we resolved it," said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dan Cooper, R-Piedmont.

The application Sanford signed has him guaranteeing the state will use the money properly and comply with federal monitoring requirements. However, he told Duncan: "while I'm signing these documents under duress, I have no ability to promise that many of the mentioned conditions and guarantees will indeed be met."

Some of those items require Legislative approval, and Sanford said he couldn't guarantee they would be met — something he said was likely the case with other governors signing request paperwork.

"In this case it makes something of a mockery of the law itself given the conditions that were supposed to be a part of receiving these monies," Sanford wrote.

State Education Department spokesman Jim Foster said the U.S. Education Department has been sending money to states within about 10 days of receiving stimulus requests, though South Carolina can't use the money before the new budget takes effect July 1.

More important than the money is the assurance it gives public schools that had been holding off on budget decisions as Sanford's stimulus fight played out.

Sanford also ended his legal challenges on the money Monday when he asked a federal judge to dismiss his lawsuit, which sought to prevent state Attorney General Henry McMaster from enforcing the budget law.

Two lawsuits had been filed in the state's supreme court to force Sanford to request the money. One was filed by two students, the other by school administrators.

The stimulus fight played out as South Carolina jobless rate soared. The state's 11.5 percent rate in April was a state record and the nation's third highest. Democrats organized Save our Jobs rallies around the state Monday to criticize Sanford's job creation efforts in the midst of the stimulus issue.

"Of all of my frustrations, the greatest is this is four or five months when our unemployment rate has climbed, when families have had to worry month by month about whether or not they had a job or had a paycheck," former Democrat Gov. Jim Hodges said after a Columbia Statehouse rally that drew a couple of dozen people.

"And that's four or five months the governor should have been focused on creating jobs from sun up to sun down," Hodges said.

Sanford spokesman Joel Sawyer said the governor is doing plenty to create jobs. Hodges, he noted, ended his single term with fewer jobs than when he took office and Sanford's two-term tenure has yielded 100,000 since 2003.

Sawyer said the "Democrat-driven events are interesting, because they're very much at odds with many of these elected officials' actions," including voting against money for the Commerce Department, the state's economic development agency, or an overhaul of the state Employment Security Commission. "We'd welcome these folks to stop playing politics and work with the governor on these reforms and others."

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