Kentucky Supreme Court rules Bevin had no right to cut university funding

Emma Collins

The Kentucky Supreme Court on Thursday ruled Governor Matt Bevin overstepped his power when he removed a total of $18 million from state universities’ budgets earlier this year.

Bevin, in an effort to aid the state’s underfunded pension system, asked state legislators in January to consider a 4.5 percent cut to the budgets of all universities. The legislators were unable to reach a compromise on the cuts; however, Bevin ordered the universities to return 2 percent of their budgets despite not having the consent of the General Assembly.

Attorney General Andy Beshear sued Bevin claiming the governor did not have power to cut the budgets when the General Assembly had already appropriated the funds.

In the ruling, Justice Mary Noble agreed with Beshear when she wrote Bevin did not have the power to change or deny money that had already been allotted for a specific use, particularly when the money concerned the state’s public universities.

“Whatever authority he might otherwise have to require a budget unit not to spend appropriated funds does not extend to the Universities, which the legislature has made independent bodies politic with control over their own expenditures,” the ruling stated.

The ruling does not specify whether Bevin must return the funds.

In response to the Supreme Court’s decision, Bob Skipper, media relations director, sent out an email containing a brief statement.

“As a practical matter for WKU, we allocated funds from our budget reserves to cover the shortfall that resulted from the $1.5 million reduction in state appropriation at the end of the 2015-16 fiscal year,” Skipper said. “Today’s ruling will allow us to replenish the reserves as soon as funds are made available from the state.”

Skipper said it is the only comment WKU will make about the ruling for the time being.

Beshear, who praised the court’s decision, said the Supreme Court made it clear everyone must follow the law, even the governor. He also called for the governor to take immediate action in response to the court’s decision.

“Based on today’s ruling, I am calling for the governor to immediately release the $18 million he wrongfully withheld from universities and colleges,” Beshear said in a press conference.

The 5-2 ruling reversed the decision made by Franklin Circuit Court Judge Thomas Wingate earlier this May.

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