Judge rules that Gov. Bevin followed law in current-year university cuts as AG Beshear plans appeal to Supreme Court

05/18/2016 05:30 PM

Gov. Matt Bevin followed the law when he ordered 2 percent allotment reductions for state colleges and universities, a judge ruled Wednesday.

Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate ruled that Bevin has the authority to cut budget allotments under state law, an action that drew a lawsuit from Attorney General Andy Beshear. The first-year Democratic attorney general and three state House Democrats intervening in the case argued that Bevin’s spending reductions violated the Kentucky Constitution and law.

However, Wingate dismissed that argument and said state law gives the governor “a small amount of breathing room to perform his executive function, the administration of government.”

“The Court simply cannot endorse the position advanced by the Attorney General and the Intervening State Representatives that all appropriated funds must be spent or made available for expenditure,” Wingate wrote in his order dismissing the lawsuit. “This position is both an irresponsible one and an unsustainable one for a government to take.”

The judge also noted that most university presidents “admitting that they can live with the downward revisions.” Bevin had originally called for 4.5 percent cuts in the current fiscal year for most postsecondary institutions March 31, but later amended that down to 2 percent.

Kentucky State University is exempt from the spending cuts.

While Wingate found that the first-year Republican governor acted within his authority in mandating 2 percent reductions in budget allotments for state colleges, he ordered that the $17.8 million in spending cuts remain in a separate account pending appeal.

That’s what Beshear is planning, saying that he hoped to have the case transferred to the Kentucky Supreme Court.

“While we respect Judge Wingate, his opinion is inconsistent with numerous decisions by the Supreme Court of Kentucky and confers dangerous levels of power on the governor,” Beshear said in a statement.

“We always expected the Supreme Court to decide this matter, and we are confident that it will rule in our favor and hold that the budget is more than an advisory document,” he continued.

Bevin, in a statement, praised Wingate’s ruling “confirming our ability to manage the Commonwealth’s finances in a fiscally responsible manner.”

“We appreciate that the court ruled as we anticipated, acknowledging that Attorney General Beshear’s position was ‘both an irresponsible one and an unsustainable one for a government to take,’” Bevin said. “While others focus on politically motivated attacks, we continue to focus on strengthening Kentucky’s fiscal foundation.”

Republican Treasurer Allison Ball, also in her first year in office, also applauded Wingate’s decision.

“My job as Treasurer is to ensure that money is spent constitutionally,” Ball, a defendant in the case, said in a statement. “I’m pleased to see that the Court agrees.”

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a reporter for Pure Politics. He joined cn|2 in September 2014 after five years at The State Journal in Frankfort, where he covered Kentucky government and politics. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.

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