For those who have taken issue with Governor Mark Sanford over his stimulus shopping list, an announcement from the governor Friday could not be described as a victory. Instead it potentially postpones a decision about how to spend $700 million until fall of next year.
In his letter sent Friday to Peter Orzag of the Federal Office of Management and Budget, Governor Sanford emphasized, in bold underline, that he was certifying —not applying for— the Educational Stabilization and Governmental Services Funds segment of the states stimulus package.
Technically, yes, Friday was a deadline, but the action does nothing but reserve the 700 million for the state that the governor is planning to divert to debt relief.
The question, says Sanford spokesman Joel Sawyer, is how do you preserve your options for the Education Stabilization Fund, “and the advice that we got was the best thing to do was to go ahead and certify everything. That does not mean applying for those other funds, so we can still wait on those funds and still work out a deal with the General Assembly where we can pay down some debt.”
The governor’s chief attorney, Swati Patel, says the governor has until September of 2010 to apply, and then two years after that to disburse the money as needed. The governor says, “We are not going to request that $700 million unless Senate budget writers, House budget writers and this administration come up with a plan to pay down state debt.”
“I think what you’ve got to do is take a balanced approach,” says Sanford, “which is why we said ‘OK, let’s go ahead and take 90 percent, but let’s take 10 percent for shoring up our finances, so that we’re in a stronger position should this storm last more than 24 months.”
Eight billion dollars are supposed to come to South Carolina, but that includes tax cuts and local grants. Only $2.8 billion of that is supposed to come directly to state government. And of that, $700 million is under this dispute.
Sawyer says that the governor’s office is “trying to get the facts out about the budget picture in South Carolina,” and taking aim again at the current budget being hammered out in the Senate.
“Senator Leatherman, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, has been for the past couple of weeks, crafting a budget that leaves almost $600 million off the table, ” says Sawyer, ” and so when you base a budget around numbers like that, it’s going to cause people some alarm.”
Senator Leatherman presents a different picture, about which the governor says, “We’ll just say that Senator Leatherman and I disagree on the budget.”