WASHINGTON (AFP) — US governors have clashed over President Barack Obama's 787 billion dollar plan to stimulate the beleaguered US economy, with some Republicans attacking the infusion of funds on ideological and practical grounds.
Democratic governors -- and some Republicans -- welcomed the billions of dollars their states will get from the federal government as a temporary bridge to see them through a surge of layoffs that has caused unemployment rolls to balloon.
But many Republicans, including South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford who is in Washington along with other state governors for a three-day conference and a dinner with Obama, argue that the programs the stimulus aims to create cannot be sustained without raising taxes.
"At times it sounds like the Soviet Stalin time -- X number of jobs created because Washington says so. That's not the way jobs get created," Sanford said on Fox News Sunday.
Sanford, like several other Republican governors, has threatened to turn down at least some of the eight billion dollars earmarked for his state, saying it will force South Carolina to expand unemployment programs that cannot last.
"This to me is not about a philosophical theory," said Jennifer Granholm, the Democratic governor of Michigan, where crisis in the auto industry has sent unemployment soaring to 10.6 percent, the highest in the country.
"This is about real people who through no fault of their own are laid off because of a recession. They need to be able to put food on the table," she said on the same show.
If Republican governors wanted to turn down stimulus money, "I'll take their dollars, too," she said.
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California echoed those comments in an interview with ABC television, calling the stimulus package "terrific."
He warned that the public is turned off by the spectacle of political parties fighting other over the stimulus package.
"That creates insecurity when you have those two parties always arguing and attacking each other, rather than coming together and saying to the American people, 'Here's the recipe.'"
But Sanford, who is the chairman of the Republican Governors Association, objected that the federal money his state would get under the plan came "with substantial strings attached that undo a lot of what we're trying to do at the state level."
South Carolina would be required to extend benefits to part-time workers at a time when the state has had to borrow from the federal government to meet its obligations for benefits to full-time workers, he said.
"It becomes circular. We can't pay for the benefits in the program. To get the stimulus money, we have to increase the program size and scale," he said.
Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, a Republican who said he would refuse some of the money, said most governors had hoped there would be more money for roads and bridges in the stimulus package.
"But a lot of the money is social policy, in this particular instance," he said on CNN. "This is about whether we're going to change policy to what the left wants, and then have to raise taxes on our employers to do it."
Governor Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania, a Democrat, acknowledged that his state may not be able to sustain the higher levels of unemployment benefits mandated by the plan.
"But I don't care," he said. "My people are suffering. My people are hurting. They need that extra money. And right now that's paramount in my mind."
Tim Pawlenty, a Republican governor of Minnesota, said he did not like the stimulus package but was not turning it down.
"It is now the law. It is our responsibility and opportunity to implement it," he said.
Pawlenty and other governors said they would move quickly to spend the money.
"We're going to put it to work as fast as possible. Some of the infrastructure dollars can be turned over and ready to go this spring for sure. Other parts of it are going to string out over the next year or so," he said.
But Sanford, who questioned whether the economy could be turned around "from top down," argued that "much of this money is already being wasted. It is inherent in the bill itself."
Obama late Sunday hosted his first White House dinner in honor of the governors, offering them reassurance and support in tough economic times.
"Our goal and aim is to make sure that we are making life easier, and not harder, for you during the time that we're here in Washington," Obama said during the black-tie affair.
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