FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP/WKYT) - Kentucky's highest court says the state's Republican governor cannot cut the budgets of public colleges and universities without the approval of the state legislature.
The 5-2 ruling by the state Supreme Court reverses a lower court ruling that said Gov. Matt Bevin had the authority to order public colleges and universities not to spend all of the money the state legislature gave them. Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear appealed, arguing Bevin's order was illegal. A majority of the court agreed on Thursday, saying Bevin does not have that authority.
Bevin's Press Secretary Amanda Stamper said:
"We are disappointed in the Court’s decision today and strongly disagree with its reasoning. The Attorney General clearly does not understand the severity of the pension problem which became the nation's worst funded plan under the watch of his father's administration.
"Today’s ruling only affects $18 million of the universities’ overall budgets which is 0.0027 of their annual $6.6 billion expenditures. Nonetheless, we have to be vigilant about every taxpayer dollar spent if we are going to solve our pension crisis.
"The Commonwealth’s public universities have thousands of employees who participate in our pension system and, having such a large stake, should be part of the solution to fix the state’s $35 billion underfunded pension liability. Gov. Bevin recognizes that preserving our retirement systems for state workers and retirees is both a legal and moral obligation.
"We remain determined to fix Kentucky’s pension crisis, no matter the opposition. This administration will continue to use every available tool to solve our pressing financial problem."
The ruling is a victory for Beshear, who has sued Bevin three times so far questioning the extent of the governor's power. Just last month, Bevin boasted on a Louisville radio show that Beshear "will lose every one of these cases."
Beshear said this ruling was a win for everyone in the Commonwealth. He went on to say that the ruling proved two things; he's doing his job and that no one is above the law.
Beshear said that the $18 million Governor Bevin was withholding for the universities is in a special account, ready to be released. He is hoping that Governor Bevin will release the money to the universities immediately.
According to the attorney general, the Franklin Circuit Court will present an order to the governor's office. Gov. Bevin will have 20 days to release the money.
According to Beshear, the following amounts are due to Kentucky's universities:
- Eastern Kentucky University - $1,360,700
- Morehead State University - $866,800
- Murray State University - $960,500
- Northern Kentucky University - $970,800
- University of Kentucky - $5,812,200
- University of Louisville - $2,781,500
- Western Kentucky University - $1,493,000
- KCTCS - $3,383,200
The University of Kentucky's Executive Vice President released the following statement:
“Mid-year reductions to our budget are extremely difficult to manage. The Supreme Court’s ruling today provides all the state’s universities a greater sense of certainty in our budget planning process as we all move forward. The funds that will be returned to the University of Kentucky, about $5.6 million, will be included in our focus on student success initiatives, particularly in the areas of retention and graduation rates.”
Executive Vice President for Finance & Administration