Local lawmakers counting on stimulus money

By Carlos Galarza
February 23, 2009

WALHALLA — While Gov. Mark Sanford continues to rant against the American Recovery and Redistribution Act on the TV news circuit for its wasteful spending that future generations must pay for, lawmakers are busy planning on spending the stimulus money.

And although Sanford never has really come out and said he would not take federal money from the almost $800 billion stimulus package, even if he did, lawmakers are prepared to override any such decision.

The tough talk against the Republican governor is not even coming from Democrats, but rather from fellow Republicans, including lawmakers representing Oconee and Pickens counties.

In fact, Rep. Bill Sandifer, whose District 1 covers parts of Oconee and Pickens, said he was personally told by Democratic U.S. Congressman James Clyburn and Republican U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, both of South Carolina, that a provision was included in the stimulus package that would allow state lawmakers to go around the governor and accept the federal money should Sanford reject it.

“I don’t think there will be a fight at all (with the governor),” Sandifer said Monday, adding that all it would take is a simple majority vote in the House and Senate to take the money, and the votes are there.

Sandifer made it clear, as did other local Republican lawmakers ready to spend federal funds to help South Carolinians hurt by the economy, that they are not endeared with the stimulus package either.

However, GOP members in the General Assembly said that if South Carolina doesn’t take the money it would just go to some other state.

“Philosophically, I’m opposed to putting the American people in debt,” Sandifer said. “That being said, if we in South Carolina do not take the stimulus, the people of our state would still have to pay it back. It doesn’t relieve us of repayment of these funds.”

Sen. Thomas Alexander, R-Dist. 1, which includes parts of Oconee and Pickens, said he too shares the concern of the governor of whether the stimulus package overall is a good policy. However, he said “it’s our responsibility to our citizens that we must act on their behalf.”

“We would be helping to pay the money back whether we enjoy it or not,” he added.

Alexander said there are parts of the stimulus package that are for shovel ready projects such as roads, bridges and infrastructure that would be beneficial. He said he’s supportive of money going to help the unemployed, people on Medicaid and state governments operating on deficits.

“There is some spending that is not stimulus, but there are parts to help us through the deficit that I’m in favor of,” Alexander said.

Rep. Bill Whitmire, R-Walhalla, said there is much in the stimulus package that gives him heartburn, but said there is no other recourse other than to take the money.

“We’re between a rock and a hard place,” he said. “If we don’t take the money it would go to another state.”

Pickens County Rep. B.R. Skelton, R-Dist. 3, said the House Ways and Means Committee already is planning future spending taking stimulus money into account.

“The fact is that our children and grandchildren will have to pay it back whether or not we take the money,” Skelton said. “We’re in trying times, and we have to take the money.”