Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate signed an agreement Tuesday between Gov. Matt Bevin and Attorney General Andy Beshear to set aside about $18 million that would have gone to Kentucky’s universities and colleges until Wingate rules on the legality of Bevin’s decision to cut their budgets last month.
The judge also scheduled a May 4 hearing at 9:30 a.m. on Beshear’s lawsuit to block the cuts and allowed three Democratic state House members from Louisville to intervene in the lawsuit.
Beshear, a Democrat, and Bevin, a Republican, agreed to set aside the money in question at a hearing last week. The agreement meant that Wingate did not make a ruling on the immediate injunction Beshear had sought, which would have forced Bevin to release the money.
In late March, Bevin cut the state’s appropriation to universities and colleges for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, by $41 million. Bevin said the money would be used to aid the state’s cash-strapped public pension programs.
Later, Bevin reduced his 4.5 percent midyear budget cut for universities to 2 percent, releasing more than $23 million to public colleges and universities. He eliminated the budget cut entirely for Kentucky State University, which had warned that it might have to close.
The agreed order signed by the judge this week spells out how much of the $17.8 million will be given to each school or returned to the state’s General Fund, depending on how Wingate rules: Eastern Kentucky University, $1,360,700; Morehead State University, $866,800; Murray State University, $960,500; Northern Kentucky University, $970,800; University of Kentucky, $5,592,200; University of Louisville, $2,781,500; Western Kentucky University, $1,493,000; and Kentucky Community and Technical College System, $3,803,200.
In the lawsuit, Beshear argues that Bevin cannot make cuts in a current-year budget without legislative approval unless there is a revenue shortfall. Bevin’s general counsel, Steve Pitt, claims that the lawsuit is premature because the fiscal year doesn’t end until June 30.
Judge Wingate also agreed Tuesday to let state Reps. Jim Wayne, Mary Lou Marzian and Darryl Owens, all Democrats, intervene in the lawsuit.
Pierce Whites, an attorney in House Speaker Greg Stumbo’s office, said his clients are “very pleased.”
“It is important to protect the budget-making authority of the legislature,” Whites said.
He said Bevin’s “radical reading of the law is clearly unconstitutional” concerning the midyear budget cuts, “and we welcome the opportunity to convey that to the court.”
Bevin attorney Chad Meredith had contended that the three lawmakers lack standing to be part of the lawsuit.
“While we respectfully disagree that the three individual legislators have standing as parties in this case, this decision has no bearing on the strength of our underlying legal position that the governor and secretary of the Finance and Administration Cabinet have clear statutory authority delegated to them by the legislature to revise budget allotments in order to reduce spending by executive branch agencies,” Pitt said Tuesday.