Attorney General: Governor's college cuts 'outside of his authority'

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP/WKYT) - Kentucky's attorney general says Republican Gov. Matt Bevin's mid-year budget cuts to colleges and universities are illegal.

"The governor's unilateral action in cutting the appropriated funding of colleges, universities and community colleges was outside of his authority," Attorney General Andy Beshear said Friday afternoon.

Bevin ordered cuts of 4.5 percent for all public colleges and universities on Thursday. His move came as House and Senate leaders failed to reach an agreement on a two-year spending plan. The House and Senate did not include the 4.5 percent cuts in their respective versions of the budget.

"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," Beshear said. "We are therefore requesting the governor withdraw his order."

Beshear said if Gov. Bevin does not rescind the cuts within seven days (by the end of the day Friday, April 8), the Office of the Attorney General will sue the governor in Franklin Circuit Court.

Bevin said the cuts are necessary because the state's public pension system is on the brink of insolvency. He said once Kentucky's finances are in order, Kentucky will be able to spend more on higher education.

Bevin's Communication Director Jessica Ditto had the following statement:

"We are confident, with confirmation from our General Counsel and the Budget Office, that we are on firm legal grounds," Ditto said. 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. We appreciate the university presidents who recognize our financial obligations to solve our $35 billion pension crisis."

Earlier in the day Gov. Bevin shrugged off a reporter's question about whether he thought he might be sued, saying, "You can sue anybody for anything at any time."

He told reporters he does not think his cuts will hurt budget negotiations between House Democrats and Senate Republicans moving forward, but said blame would fall on House Speaker Greg Stumbo for being "truly unwilling to negotiate" if lawmakers don't agree on a budget.

The last day of the 60-day regular session is scheduled for April 12. If legislators do not pass a budget by the end of the session, Gov. Bevin would have to call a special session to avoid a partial state government shutdown when the new fiscal year begins July 1.

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