Local lawmakers question Sanford’s stimulus proposal
COLUMBIA – While some local lawmakers may agree in theory with Gov. Mark Sanford’s proposal to use stimulus money to pay down the state’s debt, they’re also questioning its practicality and the governor’s priorities.

Sanford said he will seek a waiver from President Barack Obama to use $700 million of the $2.8 billion allotted to South Carolina to pay debts and contingent liabilities.

“First of all, he is operating on the premise that he can get a waiver from the president to allow those funds to be used that way,” Rep. Bill Sandifer said. “I personally do not feel there is any possibility of getting such a waiver. The stimulus package was written in such a way that the funds are designated for very specific things, with very specific conditions on their use.”

Beyond that Sandifer also said he and others in the General Assembly were irked by Sanford’s waiting to announce his intentions until after the House had passed on a spending bill to the Senate under the assumption they’d have all stimulus moneys at their disposal.

“Although I agree to a point philosophically with him, he did not make his wishes known to us until we were nearly finished with the budget, so we’ve had to make our decisions based upon the guidelines that were presented to us from the federal level,” Sandifer said.

“He waits until we’ve finished it, and then says ‘I don’t want you to spend it that way.’ That’s extremely frustrating to us.”

Sen. Thomas Alexander said he agreed in principle with paying down the state’s debt, but had problems with the use of the $700 million if it meant it would damage the General Assembly’s ability to help public education spending.

“Anytime we can pay down debt, that’s a sound principal. But in these economic times, if doing that is going to take away funds for education, I can’t support that,” Alexander said. “Our best investment is providing for our students. I would not support paying down the debt rather than help us through these challenges.”

“If those discretionary funds are not used for education, there is going to be a significant deficit in k-12 and higher education. The priority needs to maintain funding for education.”

Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens, agreed that education has to be a top priority.

“…Assuming we don’t expand any program and are talking about throwing a lifeboat to the state budget to keep the lights on, pay teachers and purchase gas for school buses, that’s what I’m talking about doing as opposed to digging a hole deeper. I’m for throwing the lifeboat in the water for this year’s budget to the extent that the funding is truly replacing revenue we’ve lost through the economic downturn and not growing government one penny…

“In the final analysis, I believe we’re going to be close to the same

songsheet the governor was on last week. I don’t know what epiphany he is on to make a request of those funds that is not permitted under federal law. On a policy basis, his idea is not altogether without merit but that’s not a policy decision for us to make. The policy decision has been made by Congress — the money has been allocated to South Carolina and if we don’t use it the way it was designed, it will go to other states and our citizens not only won’t benefit from it. They will have to pay it back for others to enjoy.”