A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Beshear says Bevin doesn’t have the authority to order immediate higher education cuts

State Attorney General Andy Beshear said Friday that Gov. Matt Bevin lacks the authority to implement immediate 4.5 percent budget cuts on Kentucky’s public colleges and universities.

Bevin issued the order Thursday after House and Senate budget conference committee members announced they had reached an impasse in negotiations over the 2016-18 $21 billion spending plan.

Attorney General Andy Beshear

Attorney General Andy Beshear

House leaders indicated that they fulfilled Bevin’s desire to fully fund this year’s contributions to two retirement accounts as well as provide the largest rainy day fund in state history. They argued that Bevin’s cuts to higher education — 9 percent a year over the next two-year cycle — were no longer necessary.

Senate Republicans sought to preserve the full cuts, then offered a compromise of 4.5 percent over each of the next two years. Bevin indicated he wouldn’t approve a budget that did not cut higher education to some extent.

Beshear said there must be a declared shortfall before a governor may impose budget cuts on his own authority.

“The governor’s unilateral action in cutting the appropriated funding of colleges, universities and community colleges was outside of his authority,” Beshear said in a statement. “The law on budget reductions is straightforward. It requires a declared shortfall that does not exist. If it did, the last budget bill that was passed and signed into law dictates the steps that must be taken. We are therefore requesting the governor withdrawal his order. We are confident he will comply.”

Beshear told media representatives that he expected Bevin to rescind his order and would give the governor seven days to do so. If Bevin does not take action, Beshear said he would challenge the order in court.

Bevin later responded that he was “confident, with confirmation from our general counsel and the budget office, that we are on firm legal grounds.

“Today’s threatened actions by the attorney general are premature. We must wait and see what legislative action occurs on the budget before a final determination is made regarding budget allotments. .”

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said he agreed with Beshear’s legal opinion.

In a Thursday night news conference, Stumbo said he thought Bevin needed to discuss the issue with Senate leaders and propose a compromise.

“The fact is, the House budget remains the only proposal that protected education, that funded the state’s two main public pension systems at the levels they said they need, that relied on less debt than the governor’s proposed budget and that set aside more in a ‘rainy day’ fund than the state has ever seen,” said Stumbo. “Even with all of that, we were still able to fund an innovative program that would make it possible for high school seniors to attend a KCTCS school without paying any tuition for two years, starting this fall. In short, our budget is the only one that meets our future needs while honoring our past commitments.”

Friday was the 59th legislative day. According to the state constitution, the session may last no longer than 60 days or past April 15. The current General Assembly session is scheduled to end on April 12, after a veto recess.

“The legislature should never give up its ability to override any vetoes, but the unfortunate fact is that we have reached that stage regarding the budget,” Stumbo said Thursday. “Nevertheless, we remain hopeful that we can finalize a deal before ending the session. I’m confident the people of Kentucky will let the governor and the state Senate know that cutting education – after years of reductions – is something they will not tolerate. Harming our students’ futures will cost us far more as a state than we could ever save.”

Staff report

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