COLUMBIA — South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford said Wednesday he'll make decisions next week on how he'll handle federal stimulus money that he spent weeks railing against as chairman of the Republican Governors Association.
Sanford met with Senate Republicans for about 20 minutes in a closed-door meeting punctuated by occasional laughter that could be heard in the hall outside a Senate office building meeting room.
Legislators wanted the meeting so they'd be able to make decisions on how they'll handle spending.
"They're looking for ways to balance that which is coming to us from Washington, D.C., and that which we're hearing from a lot of people from South Carolina, which is very grave concerns about what this added indebtedness means to future generations of South Carolinians," Sanford said afterward.
"What I told them: We're getting pretty close to, you know, the end on that front and I would say by the beginning of next week we will just lay out where we are," Sanford said.
While South Carolina and residents stand to see as much as $8 billion in spending and tax breaks, the state and local governments expect only about $3 billion in direct spending they'll control, with Sanford's decisions affecting about a quarter of that, Sanford press secretary Joel Sawyer said.
But that's not even clear for now. "The step we're on right now is figuring out what we can do and then we'll decide what we should do," Sawyer said. Sanford already has agreed to enhanced unemployment benefits that increase weekly checks by $25 in a state with the nation's third highest jobless rate — 8.8 percent in December.
Sanford has a 45-day window to decide how to spend stimulus cash from the bill President Obama signed into law two weeks ago.
On Tuesday, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Hugh Leatherman said he was concerned that Sanford would delay a decision long enough that money would end up being sent back to Washington or force the legislature to go around him in spending decisions.
"We're not going to let the clock run out," Sanford said. "We're just going to say here's where we are. We're not going to play it to the end where it gets decided for us at the 45-day window."
Legislators expect to hear more next week.
"He met with us and has given us some hope, but he has not decided yet," said Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler, R-Gaffney. "He's going to make his mind up pretty soon and we need that with the budget process going on."
The meeting was unusual given Sanford's chilly relationship with the Republican- controlled Legislature this year.
"It is tough times. We need to work together as South Carolinians to move forward," Peeler said.
Senators briefly debated stimulus cash on the floor Tuesday but took no action.