COLUMBIA, S.C. (CN) – Gov. Mark Sanford called a state Supreme Court order that he request $700 million in federal stimulus money for schools and public safety “terrible news” for the state’s taxpayers. In a unanimous decision Thursday, four state Supreme Court justices held that the duty to execute the state budget, properly enacted by the General Assembly, is a ministerial duty of the governor, and “he has no discretion concerning the appropriation of funds.”
A fifth judge wrote a concurring opinion.
The ruling put to rest the long-running battle between Sanford, a possible contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, and the Republican-controlled Legislature over acceptance and use of the money, which is intended to support educational and public safety programs.
The Legislature included the funding, part of more than $2.8 billion in stimulus funds that are available to South Carolina over the next two years, in its budget for the next fiscal year. But Sanford said only the governor had authority to request the $700 million and refused to do so unless the Legislature committed an equal amount to paying down the state’s budget deficit.
Sanford’s statement, released about 90 minutes after the court issued its written opinion, was unusual in its length and almost Shakespearean in its sound and fury, signifying little more than his capitulation to the state Supreme Court, and the end of the fight.
“Some clear handwriting was on the wall in respect to how the Supreme Court would come down on the issue, and while we’re not surprised by the verdict we are certainly disappointed,” Sanford said.
“This decision is terrible news for every taxpayer in South Carolina, and even more so for future taxpayers who will ultimately bear the responsibility of paying for this so-called ‘stimulus’ without seeing any benefit from it. The Legislature squandered the best chance in a generation to make some much-needed reforms to the antiquated horse-and-buggy form of government that has plagued our state from a cost standpoint and an accountability standpoint for over a century.
“If there’s to be any positive from this, it’s our hope that people across South Carolina will see just how ill-served they are under our current system of government,” he continued. “What the Supreme Court said today is that a governor elected to represent the interest of 4 million South Carolinians doesn’t matter – the only thing that matters is the will of legislative leadership elected by a few thousand, and the will of the Supreme Court justices elected by and funded by those very same legislators.
“That’s just one of many tragic oddities in our state government, but it’s emblematic of the legislative dominance keeping our state from competing in the 21st Century.” Sanford added. “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.”
Sanford then reiterated that he plans to abide by the court’s decision and said he will sign the paperwork.