AP PHOTO / TIMOTHY D. EASLEY
The Kentucky Supreme Court ruled Thursday morning that Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin exceeded his authority when he ordered mid-year budget cuts on public Kentucky institutions last spring.
The ruling written by Justice Mary C. Noble said:
“The Governor’s reduction of the allotments of the Universities in this case exceeded his statutory authority to revise allotments under KRS 48.620(1) and his authority to withhold allotments under KRS 45.253(4). Whatever authority he might otherwise have to require a budget unit not to spend appropriated funds dose not extend to the Universities, which the legislature has made independent bodies politic with control over their own expenditures. We therefore do not reach the question of whether his actions were constitutional, as the statutes do not give him the authority to act as he proposed. For these reasons, the Franklin Circuit Court’s order upholding the Governor’s actions is reversed, and this matter is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.”
Led by Justice Noble, the 5-2 ruling agreed with Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear, saying that the court cannot decide whether Bevin’s actions were constitutional because he never had the authority to make mid-year budget cuts in the first place.
Beshear originally filed the suit in early April after Bevin announced that state funding to universities and community colleges be cut by 4.5 percent during the 2015-16 fiscal year to help Kentucky’s failing pension system.
This ruling reverses the May 18 decision by Franklin Circuit Court Judge Thomas Wingate who ruled that the public institutions are part of the executive branch of government and therefore are under the control of Bevin.
After the ruling was announced, Beshear released a statement calling on Bevin to immediately release the $18 million he withheld from Kentucky colleges and universities.
“It is my job as Attorney General to vindicate the public rights of the people of the Commonwealth and I will continue to do so,” Beshear said. “I am also calling on the governor’s office to use today’s ruling as a turning point. It is time for him to stop attacking and instead join me in building a better Kentucky.”
EKU is expected to receive the $2 million Bevin withheld from the university once the case is closed.
Bevin has 20 days to ask for a rehearing, though Beshear said he is doubtful Bevin can overturn the 5-2 ruling.
The Governor’s Press Secretary Amanda Stamper released a statement on the outcome of the hearing, saying Bevin’s office is disappointed with the ruling but remains determined to fix Kentucky’s pension crisis.
“The Attorney Genereal 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,” the statement said.
EKU has released an official statement on the ruling:
“The Kentucky Supreme Court ruling adds certainty to the budgeting process and allows us to better plan for meeting the needs of our current and future students. The $1.3 million that will be returned to EKU is a one-time payment, and non-recurring funds sequestered through this process. This adjustment to the 2015-16 budget was bridged through contingency funds, and EKU’s intention is to return these funds to our contingency. EKU will continue to look at ways to address recurring budget needs without sacrificing our mission to provide a quality education and student experience for the nearly 17,000 students we serve. The Commonwealth as a whole benefits from state support of our public institutions.”