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Sanford accepts stimulus funds
WASHINGTON — Gov. Mark Sanford will comply with a midnight Friday stimulus deadline and become the last governor in the nation to seek millions of dollars in federal economic-recovery funds for his state, aides said late Thursday.
Sanford will continue contesting $700 million in education and law enforcement money for South Carolina, but his 11th-hour move to meet the deadline buys time for schools fearing mass teacher layoffs and draconian cuts.
Sanford’s month-long fight over stimulus money placed South Carolina in the national spotlight and put him at loggerheads with President Barack Obama.
“Tomorrow the governor is going to send the (Section) 1607 certification for everything except the stabilization funds,” Sanford’s spokesman, Joel Sawyer, said Thursday evening. “The governor will apply for that (additional) money if the General Assembly is willing to compromise and pay down some debt with it.”
Obama has twice rejected Sanford’s written requests to use $700 million in State Fiscal Stabilization Fund money to pay off state government debt instead of its stated use to help school districts retain teachers and modernize old schools or build new ones.
White House officials confirmed for the first time Thursday that a 45-day deadline in the $787 billion stimulus bill, which Obama signed into law on Feb. 17, applies only to governors’ initial requests for the money — and not to states’ formal application for it.
State leaders in Columbia and Washington had thought that midnight Friday was the deadline for actually claiming the $700 million in disputed funds.
Obama aides cheered Sanford’s decision to protect most of $8 billion in stimulus funds slated for South Carolina.
“We are pleased with reports that Governor Sanford will join the other 49 governors — Democrats and Republicans — in filing a certification to accept Recovery Act money,” said Kenneth Baer, a spokesman for White House Budget Director Peter Orszag.
“The Recovery Act will create or save 3.5 million jobs (nationwide), and we do not want to see the citizens of any state denied the help that it can provide,” Baer said.
Obama has claimed that the stimulus package will create or preserve 50,000 jobs in South Carolina, whose 11.4 percent unemployment rate is the nation’s second highest after Michigan’s.
Sanford will likely continue to tussle with state general assembly leaders from his own Republican Party over his insistence that at least some of the disputed $700 million pay off debt, despite $1.1 billion in state budget cuts already imposed this year because of revenue shortfalls.
Sanford’s expected move is an implicit acknowledgement that he’d erroneously claimed for weeks control over only the $700 million in education funds, not over the entire $8 billion package.
In fact, Sanford’s failure to request the stimulus funds by midnight Friday would’ve imperiled all $8 billion reserved for his state.
The stimulus package, an ambitious bid by Obama to jolt the economy, provides $8 billion to South Carolina for Medicaid payments, road and bridge repairs and construction, unemployment benefits, police, tax cuts and a host of other needs.
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