Legal Chess Games Continue in S.C.|Over Use of Federal Stimulus Money

     COLUMBIA, S.C. (CN) – With apologies to Britney Spears, it’s getting to be a case of “Oops, he did it again” at the state capital. Gov. Mark Sanford’s attorney on Wednesday asked that a student’s lawsuit over the use of $700 million in federal stimulus money be removed to Federal Court. Casey Edwards and Justin Williams vs. The State of South Carolina, was to have been heard by state justices this afternoon.
     Edwards, a Chapin High School student, claims that Sanford’s attempt to reject $700 million in federal stimulus money will hurt public school students.
     The state Supreme Court denied the petition when it was first filed on, but the case was refiled last week after Sanford and the Legislature came to loggerheads over the inclusion of the $700 million in the proposed state budget for next year.
     Sanford initially said he would not take any action in this lawsuit because he was not listed as a respondent. But he changed his mind this week and in a letter to the state Supreme Court his attorney John Witherspoon Foster said the governor wanted to be added as a respondent so the case could be removed to Federal Court.
     Foster claims all the pending stimulus lawsuits, including the one filed by Sanford himself, should be heard at the federal level because they involve federal law.
     Wednesday’s developments were the latest chess moves in a legal battle being waged over how to use federal stimulus funds.
     South Carolina could get up to $2.8 billion, but lawmakers are fighting over the use of $700 million that Sanford claims is his to use or refuse. He says the Legislature overstepped its bounds when it included the money in its proposed budget to pay for education and law enforcement programs.
     Sanford has said he wants the money used to pay down the state debt or wants the Legislature to commit an equal amount from the general fund to meet that goal.
     Without that commitment, Sanford vetoed much of the spending plan. The Legislature responded by overriding the vetoes, which led to the flurry of legal activity.
     In addition to Sanford’s and Edwards’ lawsuits, the state’s school administrators and principals have also filed a lawsuit over the stimulus money.
     In a written statement on Wednesday, Sanford said, “This issue is one that needs to be decided quickly because of the very legitimate questions it raises about the balance of power and the separation of powers in South Carolina, and we’re pleased that all signs are pointing toward an expedited resolution.”

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