Sanford's letter

Gov. Mark Sanford's letter to the state Legislature regarding the use of federal stimulus funds. (PDF)

Gov. Mark Sanford's wish to use $700 million of federal stimulus money to cut the state's debt rather than prop up its budget soon will land on the desk of President Barack Obama.

Democrats' response

Sanford's philosophy hurts more than helps, press release response from the South Carolina Democratic Party. (Word document)

If Obama refuses Sanford's request, as expected, then state lawmakers will decide whether to override the governor yet again.

Sanford's press release

Governor to ask White House for waiver to pay down state liabilities, press release from Gov. Sanford's office regarding the use of federal stimulus funds. (Word document)

The drama will unfold in the coming weeks as each of them grapples with what is widely considered the worst economy since the Great Depression.

Much of South Carolina's $8 billion share of the $787 billion stimulus package will go directly to individuals in the form of tax breaks, college help and other channels, and Sanford said he has no control of about $2.1 billion set to flow to state government for highway improvements, new waterlines and other projects.

But Sanford said his lawyers say he does control about $700 million of stimulus money, and he is weighing what to do with it as the state's unemployment heads toward record levels and its economy continues to struggle.

Sanford dropped by North Charleston on Wednesday, his third stop in the state, to explain his thinking. He said South Carolina has the highest debt per capita of Southeastern states and that using stimulus money to prop up the budget for two years could prove devastating if the economy hasn't turned around by 2011.

If Sanford can't use the money to lower the debt and lawmakers let that decision stand, then Sanford said he would refuse the $700 million, which then would go to other states.

"There are consequences to every decision we make in life, and I'm comfortable with the consequences of this one," Sanford said. "The easiest thing in the world would have been to accept the money and move on, but it would be completely at odds with the decision-making framework that I've used over the last 15 years of my life."

Lawmakers may not let that happen. House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, said the $700 million can help state agencies, such as the Department of Education, transition to smaller budgets over a few years rather than taking the hit at once.

Charleston Mayor Joe Riley urged Sanford to change his mind. "Paying off the debt does nothing for the schoolteacher who is losing a job or the probation officer who is being laid off," he said.

House Minority Leader Harry Ott, D-St. Matthews, said the House, which passed its budget early Wednesday, plans to use the money as a one-time fix. "The recovery money was intended to fix some problems, specifically in the education budget, but also to help generate jobs," he said.

As the jockeying around the $700 million continues, the state Senate will begin debating the state budget.

U.S. House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn has said Sanford is making "yet another political chess move toward the 2012 presidential race," and that would be fine with K.C. Lombard, a Johns Island roofing contractor who greeted Sanford in North Charleston and urged him to run as an independent.

"I'm trying to survive the week," Sanford told Lombard. "It's not on the radar screen."