Attorney general sues governor over budget

Emma Collins

Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear has followed up on his threat to sue Gov. Matt Bevin over the governor’s executive order, which immediately cut university funding by 4.5 percent.

On Monday, Beshear announced that he had filed a suit against Bevin in the Franklin County Circuit Court. He also filed a motion seeking to expedite the process so university funds can be returned to the schools as quickly as possible.

Bevin passed his order on April 1, and Beshear gave the governor seven days to retract the order before filing a lawsuit against Bevin.

“I do not take any joy or satisfaction out of this action. Over the last seven days, it was my hope the governor would listen to reason, comply with the law and rescind his order,” Beshear said. “He did not.”

The announcement came after another unsuccessful day of budget negotiations when, yet again, lawmakers failed to reach a compromise.

In an effort to prevent the legislative session from ending without a budget, both the House and the Senate agreed to change the final day of the session from April 12 to April 15.

Bevin and Senate President Robert Stivers have been adamant that the final session day not be changed to April 15 despite pleas from the House. 

If a compromise cannot be reached by April 15, the regular session will end without a budget. Bevin will then have the option to call a special session for the sole purpose of creating a budget.

On Tuesday, however, Bevin announced he will not call a special session if a budget is not passed.

“I will not reward the inability to do the job that people were sent here for by paying them extra money,” Bevin said.

The Legislative Research Commission estimates that each day the legislators meet costs taxpayers roughly $63,000.

Without a budget, parts of the government will shut down during the next fiscal year, which will begin on July 1.

Beshear and the House Democrats have claimed Bevin’s executive order surpasses the power given to him by the Kentucky Constitution. According to the constitution, the legislature is given the power to pass laws and to appropriate and spend taxes while the executive branch is given the job to carry out the laws.

Beshear said Bevin’s action clearly violates this separation of powers. He said Bevin’s order also violates the state’s statutes on budget reduction, which say there must be either an actual or forecasted shortfall in order for budget reductions to be allowed.

“I cannot let such blatant violations of the constitution and Kentucky law stand unchallenged,” Beshear said.

Bevin and Stivers have both placed much of the blame on Speaker of the House Greg Stumbo for refusing to offer an acceptable compromise.

The main point of contention has been funding for the state’s pension system, which currently has a $38 billion shortfall. 

Originally, the Republicans planned to cut higher education funding by 4.5 percent for this fiscal year and then 9 percent for the next fiscal year. The House refused the cuts, and for weeks, lawmakers had been unable to reach a compromise. It was recently decided, however, that universities would only be cut by 4.5 percent over the next two years.

Republicans and Democrats must still reach a compromise on coal severance money, scholarships for community colleges and funding for the pension system.

Republicans say more money needs to be set aside for the pension system, but Democrats disagree.

During his press conference, Beshear, the son of former Democratic governor Steve Beshear, said his decision to sue Bevin was not based along party lines.

“This is not political. It’s not Democrats versus Republicans. It’s not about upcoming elections. It’s not Bevin versus Beshear. It’s not even about pensions versus higher education,” Beshear said. “It’s about the law.”

Beshear said allowing the governor’s order to stand may set a precedent for the governor to exert more power than is granted to him by the law.

“That’s the type of absolute power that the United States Constitution, the Kentucky Constitution and our laws explicitly forbid,” Beshear said. “It is a direct challenge to our liberty and our way of life, and it’s my job to stand up to anyone who claims to have that power.”

In a response to Beshear’s announcement, Jessica Ditto, the communication director for the governor, said Bevin’s office disagreed with the attorney general’s decision. The release went on to accuse Beshear of attempting to divert attention away from problems his administration has faced recently.

The accusation stems from federal bribery charges filed against Tim Longmeyer, a deputy general attorney in Beshear’s office. Longmeyer, who was accused of accepting kickbacks, resigned from his position in late March.