Attorney General Andy Beshear said Tuesday that there are “serious and significant legal problems” with Gov. Matt Bevin’s request last week for 17.4 percent budget cuts in most state agencies.
Speaking at a Capitol news conference, Beshear released a four-page letter that he sent to Bevin and state budget director John Chilton outlining his concerns about their plan to close an estimated $200 million budget shortfall and add $150 million to the state’s rainy day fund for emergencies.
He said the letter was “a statement of law” and not his opinion, fiscal policy or “any attempt to attack you. We all must follow the law.”
Bevin’s communications director, Amanda Stamper, said in an email that state law is on Bevin’s side.
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“Kentucky law clearly allows the governor to ask any agency to reduce its spending, and the Kentucky Supreme Court said just last year that the governor can direct spending reductions for agencies under his control,” Stamper said. “Thus, Beshear’s grandstanding is not only fiscally irresponsible and nonsensical, but it is also contrary to the law. Beshear’s latest threat to file yet another lawsuit against the governor is premature and entirely political.”
The Democratic attorney general and Republican governor have sparred over several legal issues since taking office, winding up in court on several occasions.
Beshear said he doesn’t expect a lawsuit over the planned budget cuts because he thinks Bevin will follow the law.
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 contends. The group of economists made a preliminary revenue estimate in August that projected a $200 million shortfall, but the group won’t finalize that estimate until December.
Beshear said Bevin’s actions were based on a “planning estimate” that is neither official nor final.
Bevin’s desire to set aside $150 million for the rainy day fund through budget cuts is prohibited by law, Beshear said.
State statute, he said, prohibits the governor, state legislature and chief justice from making or accepting budget cuts in excess of the official estimate of the projected shortfall.
“If the $200 million projection becomes final, that number is the maximum amount allowable for any budget reductions,” Beshear said.
He said he would like for Chilton to send a follow-up letter to state agencies by Sept. 15 that conforms to the laws governing budget cuts.
The Bevin administration had asked agencies to submit a reduction plan to Chilton by Sept. 25.
Asked whether he plans to submit a reduction plan for his office by Sept. 25, Beshear said he will if it follows the law.