One battle down between Gov., Beshear and House. More to come.
The Kentucky Supreme Court ruled today that the Governor's unilateral cutting of university budgets was unconstitutional. In a 5-2 ruling, the Court ruled that the Governor exceeded his authority. The "cut" was not so much a denial of allocated funds as an order to the universities to not spend the funds allocated. Justice Noble said that once the funds were allocated, the governor could not tell universities not to spend them.
As would be expected, press releases immediately came from the parties.
Governor Bevin's Press Secretary issued a statement saying "We are disappointed in the Court's decision today and strongly disagree with its reasoning. The Attorney General clearly does not understand the severity of the pension problem which became the nation's worst funded plan under the watch of his father's administration.
"Today's ruling only affects $18 million of the universities' overall budgets which is 0.0027 of their annual $6.6 billion expenditures. Nonetheless, we have to be vigilant about every taxpayer dollar spent if we are going to solve our pension crisis.
"The Commonwealth's public universities have thousands of employees who participate in our pension system and, having such a large stake, should be part of the solution to fix the state's $35 billion underfunded pension liability. Gov. Bevin recognizes that preserving our retirement systems for state workers and retirees is both a legal and moral obligation.
"We remain determined to fix Kentucky's pension crisis, no matter the opposition. This administration will continue to use every available tool to solve our pressing financial problem."
Attorney General Andy Beshear released the following:
FRANKFORT, Ky. (Sept. 22, 2016) -"Today, the Supreme Court enforced Kentucky law, reminding us that "the governor, like everyone, is bound by the law." Based on today's ruling, I am calling on Gov. Bevin to immediately release the $18 million he wrongfully withheld from our public colleges and universities. As the court stated, it is my job as Attorney General "to vindicate the public rights of the people of the Commonwealth," and I will continue to do so...
I am also calling on the governor's office to use today's ruling as a turning point. It is time for him to stop attacking, and to instead join me in building a better Kentucky. We live in a state where far too many of our children are abused. Our seniors face daily scams that seek to rob them of their hard-earned savings. Thousands of victims of sexual assault have been denied justice based on our rape kit backlog. And our communities face the most deadly drug epidemic imaginable. These are the problems Kentuckians expect us to address, and they are problems that all of us - democrats, republicans or independents - can address together.
So I would hope that after today, the nasty press releases and name-calling stop, and the Governor joins us for the real work that needs to be done to help Kentucky families."
House Speaker Greg Stumbo took a tiny victory lap:
"I predict today's decision is the first of what will be a series of Kentucky Supreme Court rulings against Governor Bevin's illegal actions. The court's opinion strongly re-confirms the legislature's spending authority as the constitution's framers intended, and it gives our public postsecondary schools and our college students the money they should have had all along. While I am certainly pleased about the overall ruling, I am worried about the effect it will have on legislative standing in future cases. I think legislators should have the right to join cases where constitutional matters are in question." - House Speaker Greg Stumbo
then added "This case really wasn't about winning or losing. It was about clarifying the law, and I think the Supreme Court made the right decision according to law."
The ruling reverses a decision by Franklin Circuit Court Judge Thomas Wingate. Appeal of the decision jumped over the Kentucky Court of Appeals and went directly to the highest court.