Last Holdout Governor Agrees to Accept Stimulus Aid

By Philip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 4, 2009

South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford backed down yesterday from his standoff with the White House over stimulus funding, becoming the last governor in the nation to officially announce that his state will accept economic recovery aid.

Sanford complied with yesterday's deadline for governors to seek the money allocated by Congress and President Obama in the $787 billion stimulus bill. Sanford, viewed as a potential presidential contender, has been the most outspoken of a handful of GOP governors who have criticized Obama's plan. He repeatedly said he would reject stimulus money because he did not think the nation should go into debt to fund recovery efforts.

Despite his reversal, Sanford said he will not draw from a $700 million portion of the stimulus for education and law enforcement unless he reaches a deal with South Carolina's Republican-controlled legislature to help pay off some of the state government's debt.

Sanford told reporters yesterday that the stimulus represents "the lottery of all lotteries" and that state governments should spend some of the money "prudently" by paying down debt. "We think it is incredibly important to pay first for the political promises that are on the table before you go out and make a bunch of additional political promises," he said.

All 50 governors submitted certification letters to the White House claiming recovery funding. But some GOP governors -- including Haley Barbour of Mississippi, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Sarah Palin of Alaska and Rick Perry of Texas -- have said they will turn away some of the money, such as funding to expand state unemployment insurance.

South Carolina has an 11 percent unemployment rate, the nation's highest outside of Michigan, and will receive about $8 billion in aid, with about $2.8 billion going directly to the state government.

Sanford's move comes after weeks of battling with leaders in Washington and Columbia. Twice, the Obama administration rejected Sanford's requests to use the $700 million to repay debt, saying the money must be spent on public safety and schools.

Sanford's resistance to the stimulus put him at odds with House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.), who has been in talks with Education Secretary Arne Duncan about ensuring that South Carolina receives its share regardless of the governor's stance.

"Debt payment during an economic crisis is like water conservation during a house fire -- it worsens the condition," said Kristie Greco, a spokeswoman for Clyburn. "When the economy begins to rebound, we can return to paying down debt."

© 2009 The Washington Post Company