Charleston Mayor Joe Riley has quickly amassed the support of more than 50 of his fellow municipal leaders last week, calling on the state legislature to accept $700 million in federal stimulus aid. On Wednesday, Gov. Mark Sanford told the Obama administration that he wanted a waiver to put that money toward the state’s debt instead of shoring up budget shortfalls and applying it toward job creation. If the administration refuses his request, Sanford has said that he will not accept the money.

“It’s just absolutely wrong,” Charleston Mayor Joe Riley says of Sanford’s proposal. “People are being laid off. They’re losing basic services (to budget cuts).”

House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) included language in the stimulus bill that would allow the state legislature to override a governor’s refusal, a preemptive response to Sanford’s persistent criticism of the stimulus. While the White House has yet to respond to Sanford’s request, a bill has already been introduced in the state Senate.

In announcing his decision, Sanford told the City Paper last week that he was “comfortable with the consequences” of refusing the money — namely, that it could be spent in another state if not here.

“The easiest thing in the world would have been to accept the money and move on,” he says. “But it would have been completely at odds with the decision-making framework I’ve used for the last 15 years of my life.”

The message from Riley and the other mayors from across the state was that Sanford was disconnected to the needs of the state’s residents who are struggling.

“We not only hear their stories every day, we see their stories every day,” says Rick Danner, the mayor of Greer and the president of the South Carolina Municipal Association.