Let's hear it for South Carolina's GOP Gov. Mark Sanford. Governors and mayors are holding out tin cups in Washington in hopes of getting a chunk of yet another bailout package -- $150 billion this time -- that a lame duck Congress is expected to move on after Tuesday's election.
Sanford made his plea too, but he wasn't holding a tin cup. He was the only governor to urge the House Ways and Means Committee last Wednesday to drop the whole idea of another bailout, or as it's called in D.C. -- "stimulus package."
Other governors, such as New York's David Paterson, pleaded for the panel to include aid for state budgets. "Just like the financial services industry, we need a partner in the federal government in order to help stave off an impending financial calamity and stabilize our fiscal condition." said Paterson.
The New Yorker, like many governors, is facing a huge budget deficit -- $47 billion in his state. Twenty-nine states closed budget gaps totaling $48 billion for the 2009 budget year, said Paterson, and the projected shortfall for the following year is $100 billion.
Specifically, the governors seek higher Medicaid payments, greater unemployment benefits, more infrastructure spending and food stamp benefits.
Sanford's state could benefit mightily from going on the federal dole too. His legislature just slashed a whopping $488 million out of the state's $7 billion budget, and there's probably more to come after the first of the year. Hardest hit are Medicaid and education.
Yet Sanford's plea to Congress was greatly different than Paterson's: "I'm here to beg of you not to approve or advance the contemplated $150 billion stimulus package," said the South Carolinian. "This $150 billion salve may in fact further infect our economy with unnecessary government influence and unintended fiscal consequences."
Wow. Sanford is one of far too few political leaders who understand that, whatever short-term relief bailouts might provide to states or other entities, over the longer term they can do just as much, if not more, damage.
Once Washington starts bailing out states, will it ever stop? Or will it simply encourage more fiscal profligacy? States that have kept their fiscal house in order are not seeking Congress' help, but how long will they be responsible when they see Congress shoveling bailouts to the fiscally irresponsible states?
Rewarding incompetence is not the path to a healthy economy, a fact you can be sure Sanford is aware of. What a shame that this courageous tell-it-like-it-is governor's term is up in two years. Hopefully, he'll want to continue in public service, and if South Carolinians are smart, they'll find a way for him to do it.