Funds returned to universities after months of debate

Budget Cuts Timeline

Emma Collins

The nearly $18 million of university funding cut by Gov. Matt Bevin will be returned to the universities by Thursday, according to a court order.

The order comes after the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled Bevin could not cut funds in the middle of a fiscal year’s budget that had already been approved by state legislators. Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear sued Bevin because of the cuts claiming Bevin did not have the power to change the budgets halfway through the fiscal year. Franklin Circuit Court Judge Thomas Wingate ruled in Bevin’s favor; however, the Supreme Court disagreed and reversed the ruling.

Earlier this spring, Bevin ordered all of the state’s public universities to immediately cut two percent of their 2015-2016 budgets despite protests from the House Democrats. He planned to use the money for the state’s underfunded pension system. Kentucky’s pension system is one of the worst in the nation and is underfunded by nearly $38 million.

The $18 million cut from the universities was placed in an escrow fund until the courts decided whether or not the money had to be returned to the universities.

Ann Mead, senior vice president for finance and administration, said Bevin’s cuts removed $1,453,000 of state appropriated funds. She said she expects to receive the money soon.

In order to cover the budget cuts, WKU was forced to dip into its nearly $3.5 million reserve fund. Only $129,460 remained in the reserve fund.

“This is one-time money that will be placed back in the University Reserve,” Mead said in an email.

To compensate for the loss in funding and to maintain a balanced budget for the 2016-2017 fiscal year, the university was forced to reduce its 2015-2016 fiscal year budget by nearly $6 million. The cuts resulted in the elimination of several empty faculty positions, the consolidation of the Alive Center and the Institute for Citizenship and Social Responsibility and the reorganization of the administration in several departments. Faculty and staff spouse tuition benefits and several smaller programs were also cut.

Despite the need to reduce the 2016-2017 budget, WKU chose to raise full-time employees’ salaries by three percent over a 12-month period. To cover the raises, tuition was increased by 4.5 percent or $430 per school year.

Bob Skipper, media relations director, said the university will not issue a response to the court’s decision. He said an email sent on Thursday, Sept. 22, will be the only response to both the Supreme Court’s ruling and the most recent decision ordering the funds to be returned.

When the Supreme Court issued its ruling saying Bevin’s cuts were illegal, Bevin took to the internet and posted a video criticizing both the court’s decision and the university presidents’ request for the money to be returned.

“That $18 million was not going to help lower student tuition,” Bevin said.

He went on to criticize the university presidents for insisting the universities could not handle the cuts.

“The very same universities, the very people who are crying about how much they are being cut, that $18 million accounts for less than one-third of one percent of their $6.6 billion operating funds,” Bevin said.

The court’s decision creates one more disagreement in the feud between Bevin and Andy Beshear. Since Bevin took office, the two men have disagreed on a number of the governor’s decisions including Bevin’s decision to investigate former Gov. Steve Beshear’s administration. Steve Beshear is the son of the former governor. They have also argued over the reorganization of the governing board for the University of Louisville.

Reporter Emma Collins can be reached at 270-745-6011 and [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @thebest_dilemma.