Thursday, March 12, 2009

We’ll Take It

Rather than spend the stimulus money on creating jobs and helping people who have been the victims of the recession, Gov. Mark Sanford (R-SC) said he would use the money to pay off the state’s debt — which he and the state legislature helped create.

Sanford and the Republican-led General Assembly have cut the state’s budget three times since last summer by a total of $871 million, or 13 percent — among the deepest reductions in the nation.

The cuts have limited state agencies’ ability to help the growing numbers of people in need. The state’s Medicaid program, for instance, is reducing mental health counseling, cancer screening and dental coverage.

The reductions are constricting the private sector’s capacity, too. The Department of Social Services has pared its contracts to nonprofit groups by an average of 10 percent, reducing funding for emergency shelters and employment training programs.

While other states have looked to Washington for assistance, Sanford has been a foremost critic of the federal economic stimulus package. Yesterday, he challenged the law’s intent, announcing that he will ask the White House for a waiver to use $700 million — the part of South Carolina’s share of the money over which he has direct control — to lower the state’s debt, instead of putting it toward new spending.

Asked whose mission it is to help the widening pool of people in financial pain, the governor said that such aid “has to be leveraged through church, civic and private hands. . . . If you take care of the need in government circles, you dissipate the ability of civil society to take care of that need.”

Mr. Sanford has been particularly craven in his stand on the stimulus package, going on TV and radio to rail against government welfare and making noises as if he would refuse to take the money. Now he’s saying well, yeah, we’ll take it, but only if he gets to decide how to spend it. It takes a great deal of nerve to be so churlish — not to mention hypocritical — especially when there are people in his own state who are in dire need of assistance and he is doing this just to shore up his creds for a run for the Republican nomination in 2012.

Of course, he’ll take the money. They always do. But in the off-chance that he doesn’t, we’ll take it here in Florida.