Even if South Carolina's governor and lawmakers don't move to accept some $700 million in federal stimulus money, the U.S. Departments of Education and Transportation could direct at least some of it to the state, U.S. House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn said Thursday.
But Clyburn, D-S.C., said that development would be less than ideal and that he hopes Gov. Mark Sanford and the Legislature will change their tune and seek the funds.
"Why should we (at the federal level) do it? Why should we set the priorities?" he asked. "I wanted to have legislators in South Carolina working with South Carolinians setting the with South Carolinians setting the priorities. I worked with those legislators when we put this together. I wanted them involved in this process."
Sanford had asked President Barack Obama for permission to use the $700 million to pay down debt, and when that wasn't granted, he indicated he would turn down the money.
Lawmakers could vote to override his decision after April 3, but their potential action has been clouded by new legal questions.
State Sen. Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, hand-delivered a letter to Sanford on Thursday saying state agencies would be thrown into "absolute chaos" if the governor does not reconsider.
It could result in as many as 4,000 teachers and school employees being fired, the elimination of some agencies and double-digit increases at the state's colleges and universities.
"The prospect of the state budget being held up by the court or even declared unconstitutional cannot be ignored," Leatherman wrote.
Leatherman said the Senate Finance Committee would begin developing two budgets — one with stimulus money and one without, and that alarmed Clyburn who doesn't see a legal problem with the Legislature overruling him.
"I still have hopes that they will act," Clyburn said.
Still, he already has talked with the U.S. Secretary of Education and other officials and plans to meet again to ask them to consider using their authority to reprogram their stimulus dollars toward South Carolina if the state doesn't act to accept the money. It's unclear exactly how much money the state could get through that route, but Clyburn said several projects could benefit.
For example, Clyburn said federal agencies could channel dollars toward repairing the dilapidated J.V. Martin Junior High School in Dillon County, fixing up other schools along the Interstate 95 corridor, helping with new health care and transportation facilities here.
"This could very well be a godsend for some of these efforts," he said.