Trio of Democratic lawmakers join suit against Gov. Bevin's higher education cuts

04/13/2016 12:05 PM

FRANKFORT — Three Democratic lawmakers are asking to join on to a lawsuit challenging Gov. Matt Bevin’s power to cut university funding for the rest of the fiscal year by amending the previous budget passed by the General Assembly.

Reps. Jim Wayne, Mary Lou Marzian and Darryl Owens all joined party to file a motion on Tuesday challenging against Gov. Bevin, and backing up a suit brought by Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear.

The three Louisville lawmakers say they have a particular interest in bringing the case with many constituents tied to the University of Louisville in their districts. According to an analysis by the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy sent by the House Democrats estimates show that higher education cuts of 9 percent, which was proposed by Bevin in his initial budget request, would equal a 12 percent tuition hike on students.

According to Wayne the lawsuit the lawmakers filed may be the first of more to come against Bevin for the move April 1 to strike spending at Kentucky’s public colleges and universities by 4.5 percent during the current fiscal year ending June 30.

In 2004, then Attorney General Greg Stumbo, Wayne and others brought suit against former Gov. Ernie Fletcher for attempts to enact a state budget after lawmakers failed to reach a deal. The state Supreme Court ruled against Fletcher in that case.

“There’s a history here on my part in intervening in situations where the governor wants to spend money without legislative authorization,” Wayne said in a phone interview with Pure Politics.

After the April 1 cuts were announced, Wayne moved to consult in-House legislative council, at the same time Marzian and Owens said they would join together and file suit against Bevin.

Marzian said the suit is being brought against the “unconstitutional” move by Bevin, “only the legislature has the ability to cut funds and enact appropriations unless there’s a shortfall, and there is no shortfall.”

“In fact, our receipts have been up, so there is no reason for him to reduce university allocations by 4.5 percent in this fiscal year ending June 30th,” she said.

University presidents including Dr. Eli Capilouto of the University of Kentucky decried proposed cuts by Bevin calling them draconian before House legislators on the Budget Review Subcommittee on Postsecondary Education earlier this session.

Marzian said Capilouto and other university heads speaking out earned them the retribution of Bevin in the 4.5 percent cut enacted around the legislature.

“I think he’s saying ‘well, too bad.’ I think he has a real vengeance and revenge and he thinks he can do it,” Marzian said.

In a letter signed by all of the state’s public university presidents, expect for Kentucky State University, the administrators expressed a concern of the effects not passing a state budget would wreak.

“Therefore, we are prepared to manage reductions in accord with the Governor’s final offer of 2 percent in the current year if it is determined by the courts to be permissible, and a 4.5 percent reduction from the 2015-2016 enacted in each year of the new biennium.

“We make this difficult decision based on our trust that you have committed to making new investments in higher education in the following biennium, investments that will enhance our state’s economy, and the health and well-being of Kentuckians.”

Marzian claims that letter may have been coerced, and she questioned the governor directly.

“What I hear is that he really put a ton of pressure on all of the presidents to sign that letter that they sent, so what kind of governor have we that threatens and terrorizes people?”

A hearing on the lawsuit is set for 10 am on Thursday April, 21 in Franklin Circuit Court.

About Nick Storm

Nick Storm is the Anchor and Managing Editor of Pure Politics, the only nightly program dedicated to Kentucky politics. Nick covers all of the political heavyweights and his investigative work brings to light issues that might otherwise go unnoticed, like the connection between the high profile Steubenville, Ohio rape and a Kentucky hacker whose push for further investigation could put him in federal prison. Nick is also working on a feature length bio documentary Outlaw Poet: A documentary on Ron Whitehead. Follow Nick on Twitter @NickStorm_cn2. Nick can be reached at 502-792-1107 or nicholas.storm@twcnews.com.

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