[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/03/11/art.sanfordpt0311.gi.jpg caption="South Carolina's Republican Gov. Mark Sanford would like to use part of his state's stimulus money to pay down state debt."]WASHINGTON (CNN) - The White House has rejected South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford's request to use a portion of the state's allotted federal stimulus funds to pay off state debt instead of spending it on government services or programs.
Sanford, perhaps the most outspoken Republican opponent of the stimulus bill, wrote to the president last week asking for a waiver that would allow South Carolina to use a quarter of the money - $700 million - to pay down "our very sizable state debt and contingent liabilities."
In a letter to Sanford on Tuesday obtained by CNN White House Budget Director Peter Orszag wrote that "the president has asked me to respond on his behalf."
Orszag rejected the waiver request, writing that the $48.6 billion allocated to the states "must be used" for education and public works projects.
"Congress has not authorized the Executive Branch to waive any of the above statutory requirements governing the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund," Orszag wrote.
Sanford has said that if the President does not grant the waiver request, he would reject the funds alotegher. In an interview with CNN conducted last week, Sanford explained his reasoning, saying “spending money you don’t have I think is a horrible idea”. When asked to respond to charges by Democrats that he’s using the stimulus debate to position himself for higher political office Sanford responded, “If you don't want to debate the merits of the stimulus package itself, instead talk about motives.“
Sanford’s position on the stimulus was the subject of a new ad by the Democratic National Committee.
The issue could next go before the South Carolina legislature, where lawmakers can vote to overrule Sanford and accept the funds.
UPDATE: Sanford is not giving up. In a response to the White House, his spokesman Joel Sawyer said "we're in the process of drafting a response that will go back to the White House tomorrow, which will more narrowly tailor our request to pay off debt in a way consistent with the Administration's response."
"We believe there is a way to do so," he said.
Sawyer re-iterated Sanford's call to take down a Democratic National Committee ad currently running in South Carolina that attacks the governor's position on the stimulus bill.
"In the meantime, part of a truly constructive response would be to call off the attack dogs from the DNC who are now attempting through political attack ads to determine our course of action," Sawyer said. "It's time for the President's game of good cop, bad cop to end, and therefore we again ask him to end these ads so we can engage in a productive dialogue on the merits or our request."
(Read the full letter here)