by Tom Loftus, @TomLoftus_CJ –
FRANKFORT, Ky. – The Kentucky Supreme Court agreed Monday to directly hear the appeal of the case challenging Gov. Matt Bevin’s directive for mid-year cuts to state funding of universities and community colleges.
An order signed Monday morning by Kentucky Chief Justice John D. Minton Jr. expedites the hearing of the case, skipping the normal stop at the Kentucky Court of Appeals and scheduling arguments before the high court for Aug. 18.
At issue in the case are cuts of 4.5 percent ordered by Bevin last spring in funding to the state’s public colleges and universities – one of several actions the governor has taken to save money to address the crisis of billions of dollars in unfunded pension liabilities in Kentucky’s public pension systems. Bevin later agreed to reduce the size of the university cuts to 2 percent, which amounts to about $18 million.
Attorney General Andy Beshear filed suit challenging Bevin’s authority to make the cuts. He was joined by three Democratic state representatives from Louisville: Mary Lou Marzian, Darryl Owens and Jim Wayne. They contend that the governor does not have the power to cut funding to universities and colleges below what the General Assembly had appropriated unless the state is suffering a revenue shortfall, which is not the case.
But Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate ruled last month in Bevin’s favor, saying that the legislature’s appropriation is a ceiling on spending and that state law clearly gives a governor “authority to instruct budget units within the executive branch to spend below the ceiling.”
Beshear and the three lawmakers appealed that ruling and requested that the appeal goes directly to the Supreme Court. Bevin’s attorneys opposed the motion, saying the case does not involve any issues of great and immediate public importance.
Beshear said in a statement later Monday that the Supreme Court’s agreement to take the appeal “will ensure Kentucky’s students and their families a quick and final decision concerning what I believe to be illegal and unconstitutional cuts to higher education.”
But Bevin Press Secretary Amanda Stamper said in a statement, “We are confident that the Supreme Court will agree with the Franklin Circuit Court, that the governor has such authority and that the Attorney General’s argument to the contrary is ‘both an irresponsible one and an unsustainable one for a government to take.'”
Reporter Tom Loftus can be reached at 502-875-5136 or firstname.lastname@example.org.