It appears South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford is prepared to stick by his guns and reject some of the federal stimulus dollars targeting his state. Sanford, like a few other of his Republican colleagues, is critical of President Obama’s recovery plan, suggesting it is chock full of spending on social programs that are not economic stimulants. The GOP drew a line in the sand on the economic recovery package and lost twice, first to the White House, given the outcome of the vote and second, to Obama in the competition for public support. Now some Republicans are whining that they will not accept stimulus dollars.
The governor of South Carolina is leading the way. It is political grandstanding at its worse. In the midst of the nation’s worse economic downturn since the Great Depression, and possibly its worse, some Republicans want to take a stand. It is a foolish stand. People are suffering facing this recession and some may never fully recover. Rather than work on behalf of his state’s residents to increase their long-term employment prospects, Sanford is on his political soapbox doing a poor imitation of Nero.
According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, South Carolina’s unemployment rate for January 2009 was 10.4 percent. It was 5.7 percent in January 2008. That represents a 4.7 percent increase over the year. The state also lost 75,600 jobs over the course of the last year. In other words, South Carolina is hurting and its citizens need every dollar the state can get from the federal government. Sanford’s grandstanding runs the risk of hurting the very people that elected him, and that he would do so knowingly adds further shame.
It seems like Republicans in state houses and in governors’ mansions are already tuning up for the mid-term election. Their reenactment of the Civil War only serves to diminish their credibility at a time when the American public is calling for bipartisanship. The public is also demanding action, not rhetoric, from their elected officials and expect the government to address the economic crisis. While the stimulus bill may not have evened out the playing field, it provided real cash to states that are in need.
In today’s Washington Post, an article describes the impact of the economic downturn on South Carolinians. Many of those being hurt most are Black. The unemployment rate in the city of Columbia, the state capital, is more than 13 percent. The article describes how social service agencies that serve residents who need help are struggling to keep up with demand. Budget cuts enacted by Governor Sanford and the Republican majority in the legislature have most hurt state agencies that help the poor. Despite the fact that the state has the second highest unemployment rate in the nation, conservative politicians are still claiming that charities, not the government should be responsible for helping those most in need. Governor Sanford is quoted as saying, “At some level, government steps in to fill the void but we ought to be the lender of last resort, not the first.” Sanford wants to take $700 million from the federal stimulus package and pay down the state’s debt rather than spend it.
We can engage in a hardcore political discussion or philosophical debate about the role of government later. Right now, South Carolina needs help and a governor who is willing to put the interests of residents first.