University presidents suggest compromise on budget cuts

Emma Collins

With very few days left in the legislative session, the presidents of the state universities met with Gov. Matt Bevin to discuss a potential compromise to resolve the debate on postsecondary education funding.

For weeks, members of the House of Representatives and the Senate have remained locked in a battle over the state’s budget. Funding for higher education has been a sticking point with House Democrats refusing to agree to the cuts proposed by Bevin and the Republican Senate.

In an email to faculty and staff, President Gary Ransdell said he, along with the presidents of six other universities and the president of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System, sent a suggested compromise to Bevin, the House and the Senate. They hope the compromise will help the Senate and the House reach an agreement on the budget.

“It became clear yesterday that not accepting the reduced cuts to higher education would likely have resulted in a failure to achieve a budget agreement and, as a result, a shutdown of state government on July 1,” Ransdell said.

In the proposal, the 4.5 percent cut for this year has been reduced to a 2 percent cut. Instead of losing $3,359,200, the university will now lose $1,493,000.

The 4.5 percent cut has already been put in place by Bevin through an executive order.

Attorney General Andy Beshear and House Democrats have questioned the legality of Bevin’s executive. Beshear had threatened to sue Bevin if the governor does not reverse his executive order and return the state funds.

Beshear announced a suit against Bevin on Monday afternoon to repeal the executive cuts to state allocations.

Because WKU is in the fourth quarter of the fiscal year, many of the funds have already been used. Ransdell said he will recommend at the next Board of Regents meeting on April 22 that the money, which must be returned to the state, come from the University Reserve Fund.

The fund currently has $3,488,660, which is only used if any unexpected expenses arise. If the 4.5 percent cuts remain, only $129,460 will be left in the fund.

“It is a longstanding financial practice at WKU to hold a Reserve Fund, which the Board has mandated to be at least $2,000,000,” Ransdell said.

After July 1, WKU will begin to replenish the fund.

The proposed 9 percent cut for the next year has also been negotiated down to a 4.5 percent cut. As a result, WKU will lose $3,359,200 instead of the original $6,718,400 during the next fiscal year.

“This helps but is still a serious cut to our state appropriation,” Ransdell said.

The presidents also suggested a change to performance-based funding. In the original budget proposal, the Senate refused to allow the university presidents to participate in conversations to decide the criteria for performance-based funding. The House, whose budget did not contain performance-based funding, disagreed with the Senate’s belief that presidents should be left out of the discussions.

By law, the legislature can only meet for 60 days. April 1 marked the fifty-ninth day of the session, which is set to end on April 12. According to the Kentucky Constitution, the session cannot extend past April 15.

Speaker of the House Greg Stumbo requested the final day be pushed back to April 15 so a compromise could be reached; however, Senate President Robert Stivers refused to move the date.

Despite the stalemate, both sides have promised to have a budget by the end of the session.

Rep. Wilson Stone, during Secretary of State Alison Grimes’ presentation at WKU on Thursday, said he expected a compromise to be reached so a budget can be passed before the end of the legislative session. He also said the House will remain dedicated to protecting higher education.

“We’re certainly interested in higher ed and are crusading for higher ed even as I speak now, and I’m very hopeful that we can leave you in a better [state] than some of the proposals have been,” Wilson said.

Bruce Phillips, assistant public information officer for the Capitol, said if a budget is not passed by the end of the 60th day, legislators will be forced to meet once again to pass a compromise.

“If they don’t have a budget, then Bevin may, at his discretion, call a special session to discuss a budget,” Phillips said.

If a compromise can still not be reached by July 1, several areas of the government will be forced to shut down.