As his state plummets into nearly unmatched unemployment and enormous budget shortfalls, Gov. Mark Sanford (R-SC) has been waging an ideological, politically-motivated war to prevent needed stimulus funds from reaching South Carolinians. He has already twice proposed spending some $700 million in stimulus cash to pay down the state debt — and has twice been rebuffed by the White House.
Five days before the deadline for accepting the stimulus funds, and as criticism of him escalates, Sanford gave a speech yesterday outlining a new “compromise” proposal: He’ll accept the $700 million but demand that the state legislature find other state funds to pay off the debt. In other words, You accept my neo-Hooverite approach of cutting spending in a deep recession:
Gov. Mark Sanford has proposed a compromise with state lawmakers over accepting $700 million in federal stimulus money — one that would require diverting state funds to pay off debt and accepting Sanford’s suggested budget savings. [...]
• Lawmakers to approve $270 million in cuts Sanford included in his executive budget and to spend that money on debt.
• Lawmakers to find $70 million more over the next two years and to spend it on debt.
Sanford noted lawmakers have about $220 million in extra health-care funds — money the House spread throughout its $6.6 billion spending plan — to make up the difference. Paying off debt would save $80 million in each of the next two years, he said.
Sanford is hoping to have his cake and eat it too: accepting stimulus funds with his right hand while paying down the debt — the debt his disastrous tax cuts created — with his left hand. In the end, though, it’s the same pot of money, and forcing the state to pay down the debt means forcing cuts that could have disastrous consequences for South Carolinians.
Sanford’s fuzzy math wouldn’t change the budget cuts to education that state officials say could mean between 4,000 and 7,500 teachers will be fired. And since Sanford is still refusing the stimulus funds — unless his “compromise” is agreed to — the state Senate Finance Committee was forced to rewrite the budget yesterday stripping $368 million away, which “would translate to $161 million in cuts to K-12 education agencies, $103 million to the state’s Medicaid and health agencies, $44 million to higher education and $39 million to prisons and law enforcement.”
Indeed, Sanford’s compromise is a hollow one. Local news reported that the governor told audiences yesterday that he “remains firm in his belief that stimulus funds should be used to pay down debt or not used at all.” He also dismissed worries of teacher layoffs as “a farce” an a “game of chicken”, even as he faced protesters worried about education. Watch a short compilation: