Various Republican governors have recently discovered that they have principled objections to receiving significant portions of the stimulus money designated for their states:
Led by Republican Governors Association chairman Mark Sanford of South Carolina, a group of conservative GOP governors has rejected or considered rejecting the unemployment money or other funding from the $787 billion stimulus package. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Haley Barbour of Mississippi, and Bob Riley of Alabama also have rejected the unemployment money.
The governors have been accused of just grandstanding for the Republican base, all the better to benefit their future political aspirations, but that just can’t be true. Because, as serious leaders of the Republican party, they are obviously men of principle, who would never stoop to playing cynical games with the lifelines the federal government is trying to extend to their neediest constituents.
The allegation has been that they felt safe acting out their opposition to portions of the stimulus money, because they could count on their respective unprincipled legislatures to overrule them, and requisition the stimulus money anyway, over their objections.
However, now McClatchy reports that these unfairly slandered governors have been afforded a heaven-sent opportunity to clear their good names, and make it clear they are acting in principled good faith:
A nonpartisan congressional report released Wednesday concludes that it likely would be unconstitutional for a legislature to supplant a governor in accepting and using economic stimulus money.
The Congressional Research Service analysis could imperil tens of millions of stimulus dollars reserved for South Carolina and Texas, whose governors have said they will reject some of their states’ shares of the money.
The report by CRS, the research arm of Congress, focuses on a key clause in the stimulus law.
Aimed at bypassing governors who oppose using deficit spending to jolt the economy, the provision authorizes a legislature to apply for its state’s share of the stimulus funds if the governor fails to do so within 45 days of the measure’s Feb. 17 enactment — by April 3.
That provision could be challenged because it appears to blur the constitutional separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches of state government, the CRS found.
House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, a South Carolina Democrat, crafted the clause to deliver stimulus funds to states whose governors had rejected them.
South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford last week became the first governor to reject some of the stimulus money reserved for their states. Texas Gov. Rick Perry followed suit.
The report focuses on the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. That amendment, part of the Bill of Rights, codifies the principle of federalism and delineates the separation of powers between states and the federal government.
“An interpretation … which provided that a state legislature could, by concurrent resolution, direct the activities of a governor, state and local entities would appear to violate the Tenth Amendment,” the report concluded.
The Congressional Research Service found that the stimulus law contains ambiguous language about the roles of state legislatures and governors. It also said several sections of the law contradict other parts of it.
For some reason, Governor Sanford is currently “noncommittal about his future course of action.”
“At this point, the CRS report raises more questions than it answers,” said Joel Sawyer, a Sanford spokesman.
The South Carolina Senate Finance Committee has already voted 18-3 “to pass a measure authorizing the state General Assembly to seek the stimulus funds if Sanford fails to act.” So the ball is squarely in Sanford’s court.
But all he is doing is playing letter-writing games:
Sanford sent Obama a letter Tuesday asking whether he could allocate a portion of the money to school districts to pay off their debts.
Orszag on Monday rejected an earlier request from Sanford to use stimulus funds to reduce state government debt, saying the law specifies that the money must go for saving the jobs of teachers, police officers and other public employees.
Presumably, Sanford has thought ahead to what he’ll do when Orszag patiently explains to him that paying off school district debt doesn’t seem to be the same as saving the jobs of teachers, police officers and other public employees.
Or maybe he no longer knows what the heck to do to gracefully wriggle out of this one?