Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear said Monday he will not comply with the Bevin Administration’s request for most state agencies to submit a 17.4 budget reduction plan because he considers the request illegal.
Monday was the deadline Gov. Matt Bevin, a Republican, and state Budget Director John Chilton set when they asked constitutional officers and cabinet secretaries on Sept. 8 to come up with a plan to cut $350 million in spending from most state agencies.
The cuts would offset an expected $200 million budget shortfall this year and add $150 million to the state’s rainy day fund. The cuts would not affect SEEK, the state’s school funding formula; universities; Medicaid; the Department of Corrections; and debt payments.
Beshear, a Democrat, held a news conference a few days later in his Capitol office to say there are “serious and significant legal problems” with Bevin’s request. He also said then that he would submit a budget reduction plan only if it followed the law. He sent a letter to Bevin and Chilton spelling out the problems he had with their request.
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Asked Monday whether he will submit a plan to cut his office’s budget, Beshear said in a statement that his office “has shown its willingness to meaningfully participate in any legal budget reduction. The governor’s current approach, however, is illegal, violates numerous state statutes and Supreme Court decisions, and will result in a similar outcome as when the governor illegally cut university budgets last year.
“State agencies should not be asked to participate in an illegal activity. Everyone must follow the law.”
Beshear made no mention of any possible legal action against the Bevin administration if it continues with its plan.
“We are still hopeful they will follow the law,” said Beshear spokesman Terry Sebastian. He added that neither Bevin nor Chilton responded to Beshear’s Sept. 12 letter to them about his legal concerns.
Amanda Stamper, the governor’s communications director, said the budget office received “preliminary” budget reduction plans “from several constitutional offices and independent agencies as well.”
“Gov. Bevin thanks those who understand the importance of being fiscally responsible for submitting a plan,” Stamper said.
Beshear and Bevin have sparred over several legal issues since taking office, winding up in court on several occasions.
Beshear said Bevin’s latest actions to address a shortfall were based on a “planning estimate” that is neither official nor final.
Before Bevin can cut spending, the Consensus Forecasting Group, made up of independent economists, must first make an official revenue estimate that projects a shortfall, Beshear said. The group of economists made a preliminary revenue estimate in August that projected a $200 million shortfall, but the group isn’t expected to finalize that estimate until December.
He also said Bevin’s desire to set aside $150 million for the rainy day fund through budget cuts is prohibited by law.
State statute, he said, prohibits the governor from making or accepting budget cuts in excess of the official estimate of the projected shortfall.
Several state agencies contacted Monday by the Herald-Leader provided few, if any, specifics about their budget reduction plan. Several did not respond.
The Kentucky Registry of Election Finance, which has a budget of $1.4 million, asked for an exception to the budget cuts.
“I can’t cut it,” said John Steffen, its executive director. “I could make up no plan that could keep the registry moving.”
He said his agency has 13 full-time employees and one part-time employee and is responsible for keeping track of the money that moves in Kentucky’s state and county elections for the public.
A 17.4 percent budget cut would cause the registry to cut $200,000, he said.
Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles said he informed the state budget director’s office Monday morning that “we intend to submit our budget reduction plan in response to their letter requesting a plan of action in case budget cuts are deemed necessary.”
“We understand times are tough financially on our state and we are committed to doing our part to repair Kentucky’s finances, while maintaining critical services for Kentucky farmers and consumers,” Quarles said.
Auditor Mike Harmon and Treasurer Allison Ball also said their offices are cooperating with Chilton.
Nancy Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for the Department of Education, said she had no details but a proposal to Chilton was being finalized with the goal of “trying to minimize the impact on classrooms across the commonwealth.”
Rob Weber, a spokesman for the legislative branch of state government, said “we have no information to share.” Leigh Anne Hiatt, a spokeswoman for the judicial branch, said officials are still evaluating the governor’s request.
Staff writer Valarie Honeycutt Spears contributed to this article.