FRANKFORT, Ky. ― Kentucky’s Republican governor has accepted the state Supreme Court’s decision banning him from cutting college budgets without legislative approval, officially closing the first of several legal challenges brought against him since he took office in December.
A spokeswoman for Matt Bevin confirmed Thursday that he did not ask the state’s highest court to reconsider its ruling, issued last month. Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear, who sued to block Bevin’s order to cut the budgets, praised the governor’s decision and called it “a victory for the rule of law.” He called on Bevin to immediately release the money ― about $18 million ― to the colleges.
But Bevin spokeswoman Amanda Stamper said he still disagrees with the decision and will not release the money until the Franklin Circuit Court orders him to. Circuit Court Judge Thomas Wingate had previously sided with Bevin. But the Supreme Court reversed that ruling and sent the case back to Wingate.
“This was a bad decision for Kentucky and the ramifications from the Attorney General’s political lawsuit could be significant,” Stamper said.
Bevin ordered spending cuts of 2 percent for most public colleges and universities earlier this year, saying they were necessary to combat the state’s mounting pension debt. The state legislature did not approve those cuts, and Beshear sued to stop them.
Last month, Moody’s said the Supreme Court ruling was a “credit negative” for the state because it limits the governor’s ability to “manage difficult budget scenarios without the cooperation of the state legislature.” Kentucky law does allow the governor to order budget cuts without the legislature’s approval, but only if there is a deficit of 5 percent or less. Bevin ordered his cuts when the state had a small surplus.
The nearly $18 million cuts were small by any measure. The combined budgets of affected colleges and universities is more than $6.6 billion. And experts estimate Kentucky’s pension debt is more than $30 billion. The cuts revealed the first of many deep disagreements between Bevin and Beshear, a potential candidate for governor in 2019.
Beshear has since filed two more lawsuits against Bevin, challenging his authority to remove members of state boards and commissions. A circuit court judge recently sided with Beshear by permanently blocking Bevin’s order that abolished and replaced the University of Louisville board of trustees. Bevin is likely to appeal that ruling.