The governors and handouts

The Baltimore Sun

Throw a life preserver to drowning men and the last thing you might expect is a lecture from these waterlogged souls about how you're making them dependent on life preservers. But that's exactly how some ungrateful Republican governors have responded to federal stimulus aid.

There are flaws in the stimulus program, and we've identified them before. But what seems to annoy South Carolina's Mark Sanford and Louisiana's Bobby Jindal is that a temporary boost in federal funding for programs such as Medicaid could prove addictive. Their electorates might just decide that they don't want benefits to vanish when the stimulus well goes dry.

Don't count on these nay-sayers to really say no to Washington's largesse except in some small, highly selective cases. Even the most conservative governors aren't likely to deny basic safety-net benefits to the voters or slash and burn state budgets during the worst recession since the 1930s when it isn't absolutely necessary. Their legislatures, and quite a few constituents, won't go for it.

Surely the worst example of this hypocrisy is the catcalling over unemployment insurance and the stimulus plan's modest increases to jobless benefits. Giving a bit more to the out-of-work is among the better ways to inject life in the economy - or at least counter the vicious cycle of job losses causing businesses to slump and leading to more job losses.

Might an extra $25 a week help the unemployed of South Carolina, not to mention all the small businesses that stand to benefit when they spend it? Unemployment in the state is approaching 10 percent, which is higher than all but a handful of other states.

We sympathize with companies that don't like paying higher payroll taxes. Those that have laid off workers are getting hit hardest just when they can afford it the least. We also oppose using one-time stimulus aid to expand the size of government (which this won't).

But if businesses want to see lower unemployment costs, they ought to favor an economic recovery. It also wouldn't hurt them to push for a crackdown on employers who avoid paying a fair share of taxes by misrepresenting workers as independent contractors and state laws that permit double-dipping by those who collect unemployment and severance at the same time.

Mr. Sanford, a potential presidential contender in 2012, may be waving red meat at the Rush Limbaugh wing of his party, but others in the GOP, such as California's Arnold Schwarzenegger and Florida's Charlie Crist, aren't as impressed. They understand the country is in the mood for solutions, not the partisan rhetoric of the past.

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