FRANKFORT (AP) — A clash between Kentucky’s top two elected officials will be settled by the state’s highest court.
The Kentucky Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear a lawsuit brought by Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear, the state’s chief law enforcement officer, against Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, the state’s chief executive.
The dispute is about whether Bevin can order public colleges and universities not to spend money, even though the state legislature has already given them permission to spend it. Bevin has ordered the colleges and universities not to spend about $18 million this year, representing a 2 percent cut of the budgets lawmakers had initially approved.
Bevin says the spending cuts are needed to bolster the state’s bank account in light of its soaring public pension debt, estimated at more than $30 billion. But Beshear says Bevin’s order oversteps his authority, creating a “dangerous precedent” where the governor could go around the state legislature to control state spending.
Last month, a state judge agreed with Bevin. Beshear appealed that ruling. Normally, he would go before the state Court of Appeals. But Beshear asked the state Supreme Court to hear the case first. Bevin opposed Beshear’s request, saying the case was not of “great and immediate public importance.”
Monday, the Supreme Court agreed to take the case and scheduled a hearing for Aug. 18.
“Today’s ruling will ensure Kentucky’s students and their families a quick and final decision concerning what I believe to be illegal and unconstitutional cuts to higher education,” Beshear said.
Bevin spokeswoman Amanda Stamper said the case is important to the state’s financial health.
“We are confident that the Supreme Court will agree with the Franklin Circuit Court, that the governor has such authority and that the attorney general’s argument to the contrary is ‘both an irresponsible one and an unsustainable one for a government to take,’” Stamper said.
The 2 percent budget cuts are in addition to 4.5 percent cuts the state legislature approved for the next two years. In response, many college and university boards have voted to raise tuition.
“It is my hope that, if we prevail, the funds will be used to offset the increases in tuition that schools are passing to deal with Gov. Bevin’s massive education cuts,” Beshear said.
The University of Kentucky, where President Eli Capilouto has called Bevin’s budget cuts “draconian,” is raising tuition 5 percent. But the school is also raising Capilouto’s salary 48 percent, bringing his annual base salary to $790,000. In a news release, school officials said the pay raise brings Capilouto’s salary in line with other college presidents in the Southeastern Conference.
“We exist in a marketplace. This contract proposal reflects that,” board chairman Britt Brockman said.