Court orders Sanford to take stimulus money - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina |

Court orders Sanford to take stimulus money

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Source: SCETV Source: SCETV

By Jack Kuenzie - bio | email

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - The state Supreme Court Thursday ordered Governor Mark Sanford to accept $700 million in disputed stimulus money included in the state budget.

The court issued a writ of mandamus ordering Sanford to accept the money that would mostly go toward public schools in the state.

The writ was included in a 5-0 ruling in favor of school administrators and two South Carolina students who went up against Gov. Sanford in court.
[Read the court's entire ruling here]

Sanford spent months trying to convince the state that he should have final say over how some federal stimulus dollars are spent. The anti-bailout governor refused to take the cash even after legislators passed a budget requiring him to do so.

In response to the ruling, Sanford said the state has "a fundamentally flawed governmental structure that impedes and hurts progress in the state."

He said the General Assembly has too much power already, in line with state Attorney General Henry McMaster, who said unintended long-term consequences of the ruling may diminish the state's executive branch into functional irrelevancy.

"In our final 18 months in office, we're going to use every tool available to us to highlight some much-needed reforms to our governmental structure, but it's going to take energy and commitment on the part of every South Carolinian who wants to see those changes to help us push them over the finish line," said Sanford Thursday.

But the governor has said he will accept whatever is decided. Monday he said he would not appeal the Supreme Court decision, and if he lost he would drop his federal case.

"Our decision today should not be construed as a comment on the policy differences between Governor Sanford and the General Assembly respecting the wisdom or necessity of South Carolina accepting the SFS funds," the court said in the opinion. "Under our limited role, the matter is presented to us as one of statutory construction of the ARRA and the application of settled state separation of powers principles. We discharge our duty to honor the rule of law, nothing more."

State Superintendent of Schools Jim Rex says the ruling paves the way for federal stabilization funds to be drawn down quickly and sent to local school districts in time to help students next year.

"What I'm hearing today is a big sigh of relief from local school districts," Rex said. "This ruling - and the governor's pledge not to appeal it - gives them assurances that federal help is coming. Now they can move ahead and approve budgets that save teaching positions that were going to be cut. They can save effective programs that were on life support.

State Senate Democratic Leader John C. Land, III issued a statement praising the court's decision.

"This is wonderful news. I'm grateful for the Court's swift action," said Land. "For too long we have had to deal with this needless fight simply because of our governor's selfish political ambitions. We can now move forward with our state's economic recovery."

Republican 2010 gubernatorial candidate and Sanford ally Nikki Haley said accepting the stimulus money is a mistake, but after the court's ruling it's time to move on.

She said the General Assembly was unaccountable, saying, "We need spending caps that take complete discretion away from a legislative body that has proven unwilling or unable to act responsibly with taxpayer dollars."

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