The showdown between Gov. Mark Sanford and the state Legislature over whether the state should accept $700 million in federal stimulus money appears finally to have come to an end. On Thursday, the state Supreme Court ordered Sanford to take the money.
That ruling was predictable after efforts by Sanford failed to have two lawsuits filed by students and school administrators heard in federal court. State Supreme Court Justices heard arguments by attorneys from both sides on Wednesday and had made their ruling by Thursday.
That unanimous decision was no surprise. In an earlier ruling, the court said the Legislature must first order the governor to accept the money before lawsuits could proceed, practically handing lawmakers a road map on how to create a valid case against the governor.
Sanford said he would not appeal the decision. He also pledged to drop the federal case he filed against the Legislature.
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Sanford has refused to request the $700 million in stimulus money -- the portion of the $2.8 billion bound for the state he says he controls -- unless legislators agreed to pay down state debt by an equal amount. The White House twice rejected that idea, and state lawmakers steadfastly refused to go along with the governor, spurring hostile verbal jousting from both sides.
Sanford anointed himself the true conservative in this fight, saying spending the entire $700 million to stimulate the economy was profligate. He equated it with winning the lottery and spending all of the proceeds on frivolous items without using some to pay off debt.
But that argument was unconvincing at a time when the state faced the prospect of having to eliminate 2,600 education jobs, including 1,500 teachers, without the stimulus money. The state already has the third-highest unemployment rate in the nation, and laying off educators would simply make matters worse.
State Treasurer Converse Chellis has assured lawmakers the state's debt was manageable and what was needed was money to stimulate the economy. Those urging Sanford to take the money also made the common-sense point that South Carolinians would have to pay back the $700 million no matter where it ended up, so why not use it to help struggling schools?
It seems likely Sanford was playing to an audience outside the state. He can't seek re-election and appears to have designs on running for national office, perhaps the presidency in 2012.
Clearly the welfare of hurting South Carolinians was not his top priority.
It is ironic Sanford, who has railed against federal interference in state affairs, would attempt to stage his legal battle in federal court. When that failed, Sanford resorted to a petty attack on the fairness of the state Supreme Court.
We're thankful this costly and unnecessary battle finally is over and the federal money now can be used for what it was intended: stimulating the state's economy.