FRANKFORT (AP) — Another prominent Kentucky Democrat is taking Republican Gov. Matt Bevin to court, this time challenging the validity of his vetoes of the state’s $68 billion operating budget.
If successful, the lawsuit filed by House Speaker Greg Stumbo would mean Kentucky high school graduates would have $9.4 million for free community college tuition this fall and more parents would be eligible to send their children to public preschool programs. Those were just some of the items Bevin ordered removed from the budget when he issued his vetoes last month, saying the state could not afford to pay for them while facing a public pension debt of more than $30 billion.
Stumbo is not challenging the governor’s authority to veto legislation, a power given to him by the state constitution. But he says a judge should overturn those vetoes because Bevin did not follow the law when he issued them.
“There is an old saying that being close is only good in horseshoes and hand grenades. And I believe that’s true, particularly when it comes to the constitution,” Stumbo said. “Duties found in the constitution are more than just a mere suggestion. They are matters that have to be adhered to correctly to be effective.”
Bevin spokeswoman Jessica Ditto called it a “petty political lawsuit” and said it is a waste of taxpayer money.
The state constitution says if the legislature is not in session, the governor must take his veto messages to be “spread upon the register kept by the Secretary of State.” The legislature adjourned for the year on April 15. Bevin had until April 27 to issue his vetoes.
He issued them at 4:45 p.m. on April 27. But he delivered them to House Clerk Jean Burgin, not the Secretary of State’s office. At 5:30 p.m., Stumbo says Bevin’s office “requested the veto messages be returned due to incorrect delivery.” But the House Clerk had already left for the day, with Stumbo’s permission.
“The clerk had somewhere she had to go that afternoon. I said, ‘Well 4:30 is the time we close state office, so, it is after 4:30, go ahead and close the door,’” Stumbo said.
Ditto said Stumbo was “absolutely wrong.”
“They were asked to be returned because the House Clerk was refusing to deliver them to (the Secretary of State’s office) after saying she would. They were literally locked up in the Speaker’s office,” Ditto said. “She told us she would deliver them after she ran an errand.”
Attempts to reach Burgin were unsuccessful. Stumbo spokesman Brian Wilkerson declined to respond to Ditto.
With the governor’s office unable to get the original veto messages back, they delivered copies to the Secretary of State’s office. Stumbo says that broke the law, since the constitution requires the originals, not copies. He also said the delivery did not include copies of the bills being vetoed, which he said is also required by law.
Stumbo also says Bevin broke the law by not including messages explaining all of his vetoes and noted he was out of the country on April 27, questioning how he could have signed the vetoes himself.
Bevin is already battling Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear in court over whether he has the authority to cut the budgets of state colleges and universities without the approval of the state legislature. Ditto said both lawsuits are politically motivated.
“While we’re working to fix the financial foundation of the Commonwealth, they are intent on thwarting progress by filing frivolous lawsuits,” Ditto said. “The Governor’s vetoes are valid and were filed in accordance with the Constitution. This charade is an unfortunate waste of taxpayer dollars.”
In addition to the budget vetoes, Stumbo wants a judge to overturn Bevin’s vetoes on five other bills he says were improperly filed. They do not include Bevin’s veto of a bill that would allow Kentuckians to order a new driver’s license that complies with federal security standards.