Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear agreed Thursday to a proposal by Gov. Matt Bevin’s general counsel to set aside about $18 million that would have gone to Kentucky’s universities and colleges until a judge rules on the legality of Bevin’s decision to cut their budgets midyear.
Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate said he would sign the agreement between Bevin and Beshear, who is challenging Bevin’s authority to make the cuts. Bevin’s attorney, Steve Pitt, said the document should be ready early next week.
Beshear said the agreement is “a very favorable interim step.” Pitt called it “a good recommendation.”
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 had cut state spending for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, by $41 million for colleges and universities. Bevin said the money would be used to aid the state’s cash-strapped public pension programs.
On Wednesday, Bevin reduced his 4.5 percent mid-year 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.
Beshear said he was pleased that Bevin will set aside the money until Wingate answers the question of whether Bevin had the legal authority to make midyear cuts even though there is no revenue shortfall.
Wingate said he would rule on that question in a few weeks.
During the court hearing, Pitt argued that Beshear’s lawsuit is premature. He said there are about 10 weeks left in this fiscal year.
“We don’t know what the governor is going to do,” he said.
Pitt also said that all university presidents except KSU President Raymond Burse had agreed to a 2 percent cut this fiscal year, if it is determined to be legal.
Beshear told reporters after the hearing that it would set “a dangerous precedent” if a governor could make cuts in a state budget that the legislature already has enacted without any shortfall in state revenue.
Also during the hearing, Wingate heard arguments by Pierce Whites, an attorney in House Speaker Greg Stumbo’s office, about why three Democratic state representatives from Louisville — Jim Wayne, Mary Lou Marzian and Darryl Owens — should be allowed to intervene in the case.
Bevin attorney Chad Meredith contended that the three lawmakers lack standing to be part of the lawsuit. He said that Stumbo had previously told the Lexington Herald-Leader that he lacked standing to be in the lawsuit.
Whites disputed that and said there has been precedent for lawmakers to intervene in such cases.
The judge said he would rule later on their request to intervene.
At the beginning of Thursday’s hearing, Wingate disclosed that some of his family members work in state government, including his wife, who is a career employee in the workers’ compensation division of the attorney general’s office, and a brother-in-law in the state’s veterans affairs office.