Look who hates the federal stimulus bill

The HeraldFebruary 13, 2009 

Elected officials from South Carolina don't seem to like President Obama's stimulus package.

"This bill stinks," said Sen. Lindsey Graham of the compromise Senate bill that got only three Republican votes.

"This is one of the worst bills in the history of Congress," said Sen. Jim DeMint, who had gone to the trouble of producing a rival bill containing only tax cuts.

"When you actually begin to look at the fine print, it just doesn't work," said Gov. Mark Sanford, who, in his capacity as chairman of the Republican Governors Association, traveled to Washington last week to lobby against the stimulus package. Sanford, the immaculate libertarian, has yet to commit to accepting stimulus money for the state once the final bill passes.

If he does decide to forgo all or some of the stimulus money to which the state is entitled, he's likely to have the support of at least two leaders in the Legislature.

State Senate President Pro Tempore Glenn McConnell and House Speaker Bobby Harrell, both Charleston Republicans, said that while they wouldn't refuse money for infrastructure needs such as roads, bridges and sewer systems, they wouldn't be so thrilled about money aimed at supplementing the state's budget.

"Adding one-time money into the budget does not solve the budget problem -- it just puts it off for a little while," said Harrell. More ideological purity.

The desire not to fund long-term state needs with one-time money is understandable -- although the Legislature has not been reticent about doing so in recent years. But this is different; this is an unprecedented fiscal crisis. The stimulus money would help keep the state afloat until the flood waters subside.

The money for the state would help pay for expanded unemployment benefits, food stamps and health coverage. All that money would be plowed directly back into the economy, providing perhaps the best return on stimulative spending possible. And it would help people in the process.

Nearly a billion dollars would go to offset the state budget deficit. That means the state could continue providing vital services, and government workers, teachers and others employees on the public payroll might not have to be laid off.

More money would help fund "green" jobs to make public buildings more energy-efficient. As the president noted Monday during his news conference, that provides a triple benefit: it creates jobs; it saves money on energy bills; and it helps reduce both the nation's carbon footprint and its reliance on foreign oil.

The state's share of the package also would provide hundreds of millions of dollars for education at all levels, including school construction and modernization. And it would have hundreds of millions more for road and bridge repairs, water treatment plants, sewers, increased broadband access and public transit.

And, of course, it would contain tax relief, mostly aimed at middle-class wage earners and those on fixed incomes.

No one can say with total certainty whether this package will provide the stimulus needed to turn the economy around. But most economists say that for the federal government to do nothing -- or rely solely on tax cuts -- would be disastrous.

Sen. Graham, at least, appears to understand that. He said Thursday, despite reservations about the overall plan, the state should take the money.

"You don't want to be crazy here," Graham told CNN.

Several GOP governors also are eager for some federal help. Florida Gov. Charlie Crist is urging his state's congressional delegation to back the plan. Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Connecticut Gov. Rodi Rell also have endorsed the plan. And at least five more GOP governors have signaled that, despite their distaste for the stimulus package, they would be willing to accept their share of it.

They apparently are more intent on taking care of the crucial needs of the people of their state than on remaining unconditionally faithful to the Holy Order of Tax Cuts and Small Government.

As for Sanford, DeMint and their ilk, anyone who would consider turning down federal help in getting this state back on its feet should be tarred and feathered.

James Werrell, Herald opinion page editor, can be reached at 329-4081 or, by e-mail, at jwerrell@heraldonline.com.

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