Republican Senator Tom Davis of Beaufort, who served as chief of Governor Mark Sanford’s staff for five years, insists that the governor actually has two years to make up his mind about whether or not to take federal stimulus money. He says the stipulation was that state lawmakers had to wait until Friday before they could override the governor’s decsion. Not so according to South Carolina House Speaker Bobby Harrell, who says the White House, as well as the Congressional Research Service and Attorney General Henry McMaster, say that Sanford only has until Friday.
Sanford’s insistence on using federal stimulus dollars to pay down state debt is making him the focus of a lot of negative attention statewide, even nationwide. Hundreds of teachers rallied at the statehouse Thursday, calling for Sanford to accept the stimulus cash before the deadline.
South Carolina Education Association President, Sheila Gallagher says her membership is amazed that the governor is not “getting the point” about what he is doing to public education.
Sanford said Thursday that Senate Finance Chair and other budget writers are distorting the budget figures by 578 million dollars, to scare teachers and the public. “I don’t begrudge the teacers for showing up on the statehouse steps. If I thought that there were going to be that kind of Draconian cut, I’d be out there joining them. But the truth is, that $578 million is going to be there to spend.”
Sandord says he believes that a copromise with Senate budget writers is possible, but wants an amount equivalent to the stimulus dollars to be spent to pay down state debt. Otherwise, he says the state will fall into a year-to-year budget annualization hole in two years which would be 740 million dollars deep, after the stimulus dollars stop coming in. Sanford says 11 percent of the money spent by South Carolina government goes to bankers in Zurich and other locations to pay down debt.
Beaufort County Senator Tom Davis, a Republican who was the governor’s chief of staff for five years before becoming a freshman senator, asserts that the Finance Committee is misleading other senators and the public. “I’m horrified that we have Finance Committee members, coming back to the floor of the Senate, briefing us on what programs we have to cut, and they knowingly, intentionally, and what I think is a bad political purpose, leave out $578 million they know they have, and that the House used.”
Davis says the House used 200 million of that money toward the General Fund, 35 million into the Local Government Fund, and 193 million was transfered to other healthcare agencies, and 107 million was left in Medicaid.
But Cherokee County Republican Harvey Peeler, told his colleages from the floor of the Senate that budget writers are NOT trying to mislead anyone. “But I’m telling you Senators, our Chairman and our Committee did not try to mislead you. It’s facts, pure facts, simple facts, and I challenge any member of this senate to stand right here and explain it differently. And at the point we are now, members of the Senate, and people of South Carolina, I’m asking you to pray for us. That’s about all we have left. Because I’m telling you, even with the stimulus money, we’re in perilous times.”
Governor Sanford denied that he was playing politics, but accused Senate leaders of screaming “fire” in a crowded theatre, attempting to making the budget situation appear worst than it is, as a scare tacktick.
But when a reporter said Thursday that Sanford’s message was not sinking in to the people of the state, Sanford said some people -are- getting his point about fiscal responsibility. “When I spoke at the Rotary Club yesterday in Mt. Pleasant, a bunch of folks ended up clapping, and said, ‘We agree with you, keep on keeping on.’ When I spoke in Greenville the other day, a number of people said, ‘We agree with what you’re doing.’ I think there is a silent majority out there which is indeed fed up with the degree of government tey see coming at them. I think there’re a lot more citizens than people realize, but they’re that silent majority. They have to get themselves to and from work.”
Speaker Harrell said that if Sanford misses Friday’s deadline, then he has shirked his responsibility to the citizens of the state.