Kentucky's top lawyer sues governor over college funding cuts

Reuters News
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Posted: Apr 11, 2016 9:20 PM

(Reuters) - Kentucky's attorney general sued the state's Republican governor on Monday seeking to block what a lawsuit says are illegal funding cuts to public universities in the cash-strapped state, the latest clash in a simmering political feud.

The lawsuit asks a Franklin County Circuit Court to block Governor Matt Bevin's order last month to cut funding to colleges and universities by 4.5 percent, or $41 million.

Attorney General Andy Beshear, a Democrat, said the cuts violate state budget laws and blur the separation of powers enshrined in the state's constitution.

"Under (the governor's) view, a budget is merely a suggestion and the legislature is merely an advisory body," Beshear said in a statement.

"We strongly disagree" with Beshear's claims, Bevin's spokeswoman, Jessica Ditto, said, saying that his office would respond in court.

The reduction amounts to 1.1 percent of university operating revenues of $5.2 billion, Bevin's office said.

The lawsuit comes as lawmakers undergo budget negotiations for the fiscal year 2017-2018, and 11 days after Bevin sidestepped the General Assembly to direct his finance cabinet to withhold the education funds.

The cuts are part of his plans to shave roughly $650 million over the next two years as part of efforts to reduce a more than $35 billion public pension debt, his office said.

The presidents of the University of Kentucky, Morehead State University and a number of other public schools wrote Bevin on Friday to say they were prepared to stomach funding cuts "based on our trust that you have committed to making new investments in higher education in the following biennium (2019-2020)."

The lawsuit is the latest clash in a feud between Bevin and Beshear. Before taking office, Bevin called Beshear's appointment of his wife to a board seat an "embarrassment." Beshear has launched a campaign against Bevin's healthcare initiatives.

Bevin, a Tea Party-backed businessman who in November became the second Republican-elected governor in Kentucky since 1971, took over the governor's mansion from Steve Beshear, the father of Andy Beshear and a Democrat who was barred from seeking reelection due to term limits.

Ditto, Bevin's spokeswoman, said Beshear is driven by other motives.

"Given the amount of alleged corruption and personnel problems in the Office of Attorney General and his father's administration it is clear that he is attempting to deflect attention away from his own challenges," Ditto said.

Beshear gave the governor a week from April 1 to rescind his funding order, his office said.

(Reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Editing by Leslie Adler)