COLUMBIA, S.C. South Carolina legislators today voted to force the governor to take $350 million in federal stimulus cash that he has refused to request unless it is used to pare down state debt.
Republican Gov. Mark Sanford has been railing loudly against the $787 billion stimulus package since before President Barack Obama signed it in February. He has been airing ads for weeks paid for by Carolinians for Reform that explain his philosophy of not taking the cash unless it goes toward debt, an idea twice rejected by the White House.
South Carolina agencies and programs stand to see $2.8 billion from the stimulus law during the next two years, mostly for schools. Sanford says he won't request $700 million of that, or $350 million yearly. It's a stance that has raised Mr. Sanford's national profile and encouraged speculation about a 2012 presidential bid.
Mr. Sanford's supporters tried to kill amendment that would force the governor to request the money. They lost with 31-12 vote.
It says he "shall take all action necessary and required by the ARRA and the U.S. Secretary of Education in order to secure the receipt of the funds recognized and authorized for appropriation pursuant to this section."
The Senate plans to put $185 million of stimulus cash into public schools to help spare teacher jobs. It also puts $100 million into colleges where students faced double-digit tuition increases. The balance mostly goes to law enforcement and prison agencies.
Sanford spokesman Joel Sawyer said the White House, a research group in Congress and state Attorney General Henry McMaster all have questioned whether the Legislature can request money when a governor wouldn't.
They all "affirm it's under the governor's control and not the Legislature's," Mr. Sawyer said.
Including the amendment in the budget almost certainly forces the issue into a court.
South Carolina's highest court said last week it would not hear a lawsuit brought by a high school senior who wanted to force the state to use federal stimulus money. The court unanimously said the Legislature first must plan to spend the stimulus cash. Until then, there was not a controversy, so it couldn't make a decision.