State lawmakers have no ability to circumvent Gov. Mark Sanford's refusal of $700 million in federal stimulus money, according to an opinion issued Tuesday by Attorney General Henry McMaster.
The decision leaves in limbo whether lawmakers will be able to tap $350 million federal funding this year to pay for education and public safety and help balance the state budget that begins July 1. The state has been allotted about $2.8 billion in federal aid over the next two years.
McMaster said a court will likely have to resolve the issue. South Carolina could become the first state to reject the state budget aid portion of the federal money.
Lawmakers called on Sanford to recognize the damage done by hundreds of millions in additional budget cuts and accept the money. Sanford said the opinion does not change his position: Unless lawmakers pay down debt, he will not accept the money by Friday's deadline.
"This is a classic constitutional standoff," McMaster said. "The governor cannot be completely bypassed."
In the 17-page nonbinding opinion, McMaster writes that the federal process of "certification" accepting the money is a key component. Under the federal bill and state law, McMaster wrote, only the governor can certify the funding and the Legislature has no power to compel him to spend the money.
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