S.C. Gov. Sanford Being Pressured To Take Stimulus
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And now we'll hear about the politics of the stimulus package in this country. Tomorrow is the formal deadline for states to accept money from that package, and a handful of Republican governors say they'll turn down part of their state's share. The list includes Sarah Palin in Alaska, Bobby Jindal in Louisiana, and Mark Sanford in South Carolina. In Sanford's case, his decision to reject the money has led to criticism even from many in his own party. NPR's Adam Hochberg reports from South Carolina's capital, Columbia.
ADAM HOCHBERG: It's not as if South Carolina doesn't need economic help. It has the nation's second highest unemployment rate, the fifth lowest per capita income, and it's been forced to plug a billion dollar state budget shortfall. But Governor Mark Sanford is convinced the stimulus money will do more harm than good.
Governor MARK SANFORD (Republican, South Carolina): I was against the stimulus. I've consistently stood against the stimulus. If you take all this stimulus money and you spent it all, over the long run there'll be less economic activity in South Carolina rather than more.
HOCHBERG: That's Sanford giving a speech this week defending his decision to turn down $700 million, about 25 percent of the money South Carolina could collect from the stimulus. The funds he's forsaking were earmarked for education. But while Sanford agrees his state's schools are hurting, he's taking a stand against the size of the stimulus, which he says will be an economic drag for decades.
Gov. SANFORD: As pressing as our needs are, whether on education or other fronts, we ought to take a longer term perspective. We are in the storm that we're in because we got ahead of ourselves as a nation with regards to spending and simply to focus on the short term is to put us right back in the spot that got us into this problem in the first place.
HOCHBERG: Sanford says he would have taken the money if he could use it to pay down South Carolina's debt. But both the White House and state legislators rejected that idea and Sanford's not willing to go along with their demand that he spend the money right away. It's not an unusual position for Sanford, who's vetoed hundreds of spending bills in his six years in office. But now, as teachers face layoffs and colleges cancel classes, Sanford is hearing scathing criticism, even from his own party leaders. Republican State Senator Hugh Leatherman chairs the budget committee.
State Senator HUGH LEATHERMAN (Republican, South Carolina): If this governor can be so callous to not drawn down these funds, this governor has absolutely no interest in this state and the people that he governs.
(Soundbite of protest)
Unidentified People: Take the funds. Take the funds. Take the funds.
HOCHBERG: Last night at the state capital, educators and other protestors made dire predictions if Sanford prevails. They warned that thousands of teachers could be laid off and class sizes could double. Second grade teacher Paulette Hollman(ph) says her school already is slashing expenses.
Ms. PAULETTE HOLLMAN (Teacher): (Unintelligible) it on paper, (unintelligible) on supplies, but mostly we're concerned about what's going to happen next year. Our district is doing everything they can to help us, but the governor - there's not even word for it. There's just not a word for what he's done.
HOCHBERG: Sanford appears undaunted by his critics and says he's heard from lots of people who agree with him. Indeed, his determination on the issue is winning support from fiscal conservatives in South Carolina and beyond and feeding speculation he's positioning himself for a future presidential run. Clemson University Professor Dave Woodard, a Republican consultant, says Sanford's stand is generating buzz among the party activists.
Professor DAVID WOODARD (Clemson University Professor): Certainly this is an introduction nationwide that I think is pretty positive. So I mean, yeah, I think it is raising his posture, because I mean I hear about Sarah Palin and Bobby Jindal and Perry in Texas that are trying to do the same thing, and I think this is putting him in a group with them.
HOCHBERG: Several South Carolina Republicans, including U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, are urging Sanford to reconsider before tomorrow's deadline. Graham argues Sanford's refusal won't make the stimulus package smaller, it will just send South Carolina's money to other states. Indeed, Arnold Schwarzenegger has said California would be happy to take South Carolina's share. And North Carolina's governor said she's willing to drive a truck across the border to pick it up herself.
Adam Hochberg, NPR News, Columbia, South Carolina.