Gov. Sanford, You Are Not South Carolina

“South Carolina does not want ‘stimulus,’ ” Mark Sanford tells us. But Mark Sanford is not South Carolina. He is a right-wing Republican with a $3.5 million home who’s got his eye on the next presidential election in 2012.

Meanwhile, the other 4.5 million South Carolinians are left to pay the price for his ambitions:

Out-of-work electrician Everette Walker needed no prompting to express his feelings about Gov. Mark Sanford’s leadership.

“The man is selfish,” said Walker, 62. “Here’s a man with a $3.5 million home who doesn’t care if the rest of South Carolina can afford a loaf of bread. It sets me on fire.”

With an economy in crisis and South Carolina’s unemployment rate at 10.4 percent _— second in the nation — frustration with the governor’s approach to the economy is building among state residents.

Gov. Sanford’s reasoning — and that of other Republican governors, the most recent being Sarah Palin — for rejecting free government money is (a) that it’s more important to pay down existing debt, and (b) that people will get to like the economic relief measures made possible by federal stimulus funds, and will object to having them cut when the money is gone.

If we’re going to spend money we don’t have at the federal level, it becomes all the more important that our state balance sheet is in good order — particularly if this is a protracted downturn. But many people do not realize that the stimulus money runs out in 24 months — at which point South Carolina will be forced to find a new source of funding to sustain the new level of spending, or to make sharp cuts. Sure, I could kick the can down the road; in two years, I’ll be safely out of office. But it would be irresponsible.

If South Carolina could use stimulus money to pay down debt, in two years we will be able to spend, cut taxes or invest even if the federal government can no longer provide more money — not a remote possibility. In fact, paying debt related to education would free up over $162 million in debt service in the first two years and save roughly $125 million in interest payments over the next 13 years — just as paying off a family’s mortgage early frees up money for other uses.

Neither argument makes sense. Ordinary people who don’t have $3.5 million beach homes to sell cannot wait two years for a job, or for groceries, or rent money, or a roof over their heads. We’re not talking about buying a fleet of yachts, or jetting off to Majorca or St. Tropez here. We’re talking about putting food on the table.

It’s also more than a little strange for an advocate of Republican-style free market capitalism to be arguing that it’s always a bad idea to spend money you don’t have, and that paying down debt is more important than investing in a better future. We would have a lot fewer doctors and lawyers if that were the ruling philosophy. Getting into debt, or delaying efforts to reduce debt, can be a smart choice if it’s done as an investment in a larger personal or public good that is likely to recoup the initial investment many times over — as opposed, say, to debt that is taken on in pursuit of an ignoble goal like ensuring a steady flow of oil profits for huge multinational corporations, and that ends up costing the nation hugely in terms of human lives, moral standing, and physical safety without providing any justifiable benefits in return. In South Carolina, the $700 million Sanford is rejecting would help school districts retain their teachers and provide immediate relief to people who don’t have jobs or any reasonable possibility of finding jobs in the near future, so said people will have money to spend on food and clothing and prescriptions and doctor visits, and on the rent or the mortgage — and the money spent will be pumped into the economy. Whereas paying down debt will do… exactly nothing to increase spending.

The second argument — that stimulus funds are finite and temporary, and should not be accepted because people will get to like them too much and won’t want to give them up — is equally (or maybe even more) flawed.

In this view, as expressed here by Tigerhawk, who praised Sarah Palin’s decision to turn down over 30% of federal stimulus dollars designated for Alaska, “She understands that this money is like an addictive drug — accept it today, depend on it tomorrow, and come up short a few years after tomorrow when the dealer stops supplying the goods for free.”

In other words, in an emergency, one should not accept temporary assistance because it’s not permanent assistance. How stupid is that?  Not to mention irresponsible:

Anchorage Democratic Rep. Les Gara argued that it’s bad governing not to do things he said would improve schools and reduce the unemployment rate for two years just because it might not last forever. …

Plus, it makes no sense:

Acting Anchorage Mayor Matt Claman said he’s disappointed Palin chose to turn down funding that would create jobs and maintain services. “Her rationale is like turning down a gift card because it expires in two years,” Claman said in a written statement.

Meanwhile, Jon Perr looks at a chart that shows, for each state, how many federal spending dollars the state receives compared with how many federal tax dollars the state sends to Washington. The states that got more dollars from the feds in spending than they paid to the feds in taxes — red or blue? Take a wild guess.

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