Bill would force Sanford to take money

South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford

State Sen. Vincent Sheheen unveiled a plan Wednesday to force Gov. Mark Sanford to take $700 million in federal stimulus money.

Sheheen, a Democratic candidate for governor in 2010, said he will introduce a binding resolution ordering Sanford to take the money when the Senate reconvenes Tuesday. The Camden resident said he expects several other sponsors to sign his bill, which he hopes to have on Sanford's desk before the end of May. Fellow Democrats, none of them from the Charleston area, will introduce a similar resolution Tuesday in the House, he said.

Sanford, who wants to use the money to pay down state debt, would have to carry out a resolution passed by both the House and the Senate, Sheheen said.

Still, supporters would need enough votes to override Sanford's expected veto, and the governor, who has control over the money, also could mount a legal challenge. But Sheheen is confident his tactic could work. "We think we are on firm legal footing here," he said during remarks outside Fraser Elementary School, on Columbus Street on the Charleston peninsula.

Fraser was closed for spring break but provided a symbolic backdrop as much of the money is intended for school funding. Educators have criticized Sanford's stance on the issue, saying it could cost hundreds of teachers their jobs.

Sanford, who chairs the Republican Governors Association, has raised his national profile and talk of a 2012 presidential bid through his opposition to President Barack Obama's $787 billion stimulus effort. He says it will saddle generations with debt and devalue the dollar. The state will see $2.8 billion in federal money flow through its budgets during the next two years. That includes $700 million that Sanford would have to request.

On Wednesday, Sanford's former U.S. House colleague and MSNBC News "Morning Joe" host Joe Scarborough told Sanford, "Seriously, I want you to run for president. That's all I'm going to say. I think you need to run for president. Republicans need you."

"We'll get right on that. Thanks, Joe," Sanford responded, chuckling as Scarborough noted his sarcasm. Sanford told reporters last week he does not plan to run, but hasn't ruled it out. U.S. House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., on Tuesday called on state legislators to go ahead and appropriate the money and get over fears of a court fight.

Sen. Hugh Leatherman, head of the Senate Finance Committee, said that he won't include the contested stimulus money in the main budget. Rather, he plans to add a measure that would put the cash into schools, keeping the money separate in case there's a court fight down the road.