- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 4, 2009

COLUMBIA, S.C. | Gov. Mark Sanford bought more time Friday to decide whether to request federal stimulus money for South Carolina’s impoverished schools, a move that guarantees he will spend at least a few more weeks dealing with citizen protests, yard signs urging his impeachment and nasty statements from fellow Republicans.

Mr. Sanford has been railing loudly against the $787 billion stimulus package since before President Barack Obama signed it in February. More recently, he has objected to spending $700 million available to his state to fund education, a position that has spawned street protests, dire predictions about the future of state schools, and criticism even from his allies.

But in this independent-minded state, where editorials from the New York Times and anti-Sanford ads sponsored by national Democrats raise hackles, some folks are in Mr. Sanford’s camp in thinking the rest of the country has lost its collective mind when it comes to using Washington’s borrowed money.

South Carolina’s share is $2.8 billion over two years, but Mr. Sanford only directly controls the $700 million that is mainly to be used for schools. He instead wants to use it to pay down debt, but the White House has twice said he can’t. Mr. Sanford is the only governor not seeking the mostly education-related money.

Mr. Sanford faced a Friday deadline to request the $700 million, but he bought the state more time by filing paperwork to request the larger pool of money to which the state is entitled. Ultimately, he will have until September 2010 to commit to using the money, but he has only weeks to work out deals with budget writers in the Repunlican-controlled legislature who want to include the cash in the budget that takes effect July 1.

State education officials say the $700 million over two years would keep hundreds of teachers employed in a state that had the second-highest unemployment rate in February.

About 40 Sanford fans gathered for a counterdemonstration earlier in the week when hundreds of teachers and parents rallied Wednesday outside the Statehouse, carrying signs proclaiming “Pink Slip Sanford” and talking about forestalling cuts that already have slashed education spending.

Patricia Wheat, a grandmother from Lexington, said Mr. Sanford won her support when he pushed for school choice and solidified it when he carried squirming piglets to the doors of the House to protest spending he considers pork.

“I thought that was hilarious,” Mrs. Wheat said. “I like politicians with chutzpah.”

Critics contend Mr. Sanford, the 48-year-old chairman of the Republican Governors Association, is looking to burnish his rising political star in order to prepare for a possible 2012 White House bid.

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