South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford lectures the Legislature, often with good cause, on setting priorities, so it was ironic that he chose to roll out his plan to divert economic stimulus funds to debt repayment on the very day we learned our jobless rate had shot up to double-digits for the first time in a quarter century.
When you're starving and someone offers to buy you lunch, you don't say, "I only want your money if I can put it into my 401(k)." But that's essentially what Mr. Sanford wants to do with $700 million that the Congress voted to send to South Carolina to help us put people to work, or keep them from being laid off, in the hope of breaking the economic free fall.
Let's ignore the question of whether President Obama even has the power to grant the bizarre waiver that Mr. Sanford seeks to use stimulus funds to reduce a "sizable state debt and contingent liabilities." Let's ignore whether the governor is disingenuously tailoring his request to enthrall his anti-government groupies while not actually doing anything to earn the wrath of even more South Carolinians by depriving our state of federal funds that our taxes help pay for. Instead, let's just consider how bankrupt the whole idea is.
We'll start with the claim that using federal stimulus funds will dig the state deeper into debt. That simply is not true. Now, if the state were using federal funds to expand or create new programs, he would have a point, because if the economy hasn't recovered by the time the money runs out, we will have to either raise taxes or cut those programs. But the money is being used to sustain programs that we already have – or, at most, restart programs that were cut back in the past few months. That is, to delay cutting programs that otherwise would be cut now. Sort of the way that lunch delays the moment you die of starvation; you hope it will buy you time to find a job. We hope the federal funds will buy us time for the economy to start recovering.
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