Stimulus can help

February 24, 2009 

Even Gov. Mark Sanford, one of the most outspoken critics of the federal stimulus package recently signed into law by President Obama, has conceded that South Carolina will accept at least some of the money.

On Monday, Sanford announced that he would take stimulus money to increase weekly unemployment checks by $25. Every other governor also has accepted the money.

South Carolina is slated to receive as much as $8 billion out of the $787 billion bailout for states. Sanford has been sharply critical of the stimulus but has indicated that his administration would review state needs, check to see what strings might be attached to accepting the money, and then determine what the state should take.

For example, Sanford said he would be reluctant to take money that extends unemployment benefits to part-time workers. Doing so, he said, would add more expenses to the state's unemployment trust fund and increase the taxes businesses pay into the fund.

State Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom, meanwhile, has announced that his office has developed accounting codes to track the money and ensure funds are used as intended. He hopes to reduce the risk that the money is misused, routed to the wrong agency or wasted in any way.

That might be easier said than done. The stimulus bill is 1,200 pages long and is certain to contain some surprises.

Nonetheless, we disagree with Sanford and other critics that the basic economic philosophy behind the stimulus is unsound or that programs funded by government are inherently wasteful. This infusion of cash to the states, if properly allocated, can create jobs, improve the state's infrastructure, stave off cuts in education, prevent the need to lay off public workers and provide medical care and temporary sustenance to the unemployed and needy.

The state Transportation Commission already has adopted a plan to pump at least $200 million into highway building and resurfacing, bridge repairs, new sidewalks and safety projects. In all, South Carolina will receive $463 million for road projects.

This stimulus can give the state valuable breathing space until the recession bottoms out and the economy gradually begins to improve. In terms of improved roads, safer bridges and other infrastructure improvements such as school repairs, the state will be better off than it was prior to the recession.

While the money will be dispersed and monitored by the state, decisions about how much of it is spent likely are to be made at the local level. That, we think, is appropriate; local governments often are best attuned to how to spend the money where it will do the most good.

Some critics, including the governor, insist that the infusion of money to South Carolina and other states will fail to prime the pump for new economic activity. But the money is coming despite their misgivings.

If Sanford were to refuse the stimulus money, it simply would be spent somewhere else -- while South Carolinians still would bear the burden of helping to pay for it. The sensible choice is to accept the money and use it to benefit the residents of this state.

IN SUMMARY

State should take federal stimulus money and use it to fix roads and help residents.

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