Politics & Government

Bevin wants to slow down case involving his university budget cuts

University of Kentucky campus in Lexington.
University of Kentucky campus in Lexington.

Gov. Matt Bevin wants to put the brakes on Attorney General Andy Beshear’s efforts to get the Kentucky Supreme Court to consider quickly Beshear’s case against Bevin’s controversial midyear budget cuts to public universities and colleges.

In a five-page response filed Monday in response to Beshear’s request to the state’s highest court to expedite the case, Steve Pitt, general counsel for the governor, said Beshear’s motion should be denied.

“It is premature, and in any event, it is not supported by good cause,” said Bevin’s response. “This case is no doubt important, but that is all the more reason why it should not be advanced. Given the significance of this case it should not be rushed. The parties should have at least as much time as is normally given for the preparation of their arguments.”

Beshear said, “I am disappointed that Gov. Bevin has changed his position and now opposes an expedited or faster decision by the Kentucky Supreme Court on his unconstitutional cuts to colleges and universities.”

Beshear added, “In his court filing, Gov. Bevin claims this dispute is just one of ‘countless other cases in which parties are fighting over money.’ Nothing could be further from the truth.

“Students and their families face record high tuitions. Universities and colleges are laying off over 700 Kentuckians. It is imperative that Kentucky families receive a speedy resolution on this case. As the people's lawyer, I will continue to fight for those families.”

When Beshear asked the court for an expedited hearing on May 24, Bevin’s press secretary, Amanda Stamper, said, “We look forward to an expedient resolution, and will be happy to put this politically motivated lawsuit behind us as we continue to strengthen Kentucky’s fiscal foundation.”

Stamper said Tuesday: “We have never said the case should be expedited on the appellate courts’ dockets.

“Given that there are constitutional issues involved, we want this case to proceed at the normal pace so that the parties have time to adequately brief and argue the case and the court has time to fully deliberate on it. Expediting a case means that it moves much faster than normal, and outside the normal procedures. There is no reason to do that here.

"Not expediting a case is not the same as failing to be expedient. Attorney General Beshear should understand this, just as he should understand appellate procedures."

Unless the Supreme Court says differently, the Bevin administration has until late June to respond to Beshear’s request to transfer the case to the high court.

The state’s current fiscal year ends June 30 but Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate, who ruled May 18 in Bevin’s favor, ordered the two parties to agree to put the $18 million in cuts in a separate account until the issue is resolved.

Beshear, who wants to bypass the Kentucky Court of Appeals and take the case to the Supreme Court, said the lower court ruling that Bevin has legal authority to make the cuts “creates the ‘perfect storm’ of constitutional conflict.”

“If left to stand, it will eviscerate the strong separation of powers doctrine of the Kentucky Constitution and create untold constitutional conflicts in future appropriation cases,” he said.

Franklin Judge Wingate issued his opinion several weeks after Beshear and three Democratic House members from Louisville — Mary Lou Marzian, Darryl Owens and Jim Wayne — sued Bevin for ordering 2 percent midyear cuts to the state’s public universities.

Beshear argued that the governor could not make cuts in an already-enacted state budget unless there is a shortfall in state revenue. Bevin has said the cuts are necessary to provide more funding to the state’s beleaguered public employee pension system.

Jack Brammer: (502) 227-1198, @BGPolitics