Speaker of the house and UK respond to Bevin’s immediate budget cuts

Kentucky+Gov.+Matt+Bevin+addressed+the+Commonwealth+with+his+budget+for+the+next+two+years+on+Tuesday%2C+Jan.+26%2C+at+the+Capitol+building+in+Frankfort.+The+budget+included+a+%24110+million+cut+from+UKs+state+general+funding+over+the+next+two+years.

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin addressed the Commonwealth with his budget for the next two years on Tuesday, Jan. 26, at the Capitol building in Frankfort. The budget included a $110 million cut from UK’s state general funding over the next two years.

Matt Smith

On Thursday afternoon, Gov. Matt Bevin announced immediate cuts to higher education in Kentucky, including all eight of the states’ public universities and the Kentucky Community Technical College System.

The cuts, totaling 4.5 percent in the current fiscal year, were outlined in a letter from the governor to both Bevin’s Budget Director John Chilton and Secretary of the Finance Cabinet William Landrum. The current fiscal year ends on July 1, and according to the letter, all allocations from the state’s General Fund will be reduced by the given account on Thursday, “before the close of business.”

The public universities on the receiving end of the cuts include UK, the University of Louisville, and the state’s regional universities: Eastern Kentucky University, Kentucky State University, Morehead State University, Murray State University and Northern Kentucky University. As noted above, KCTCS is also included.

According to the Lexington Herald-Leader, Speaker of the House Greg Stumbo said on Friday he does not believe the immediate cuts pushed by Bevin are legal and universities facing the cuts may have grounds to sue. 

“I think the only time that the governor can not appropriate what the General Assembly directed is when there is a budget shortfall,” said Stumbo, referencing KRS 48.600, a state law that deals with budget cuts, according to the Herald-Leader. 

UK’s response to the cuts reflected their lack of surprise with the move, as it is something they’ve been expecting since the beginning of the budget process. 

“Gov. Bevin announced this measure in January, so we anticipated it. We will be working over the next few months to implement this reduction within the context of our current-year budget. It is too early to speculate on the specific measures we will take,” said Jay Blanton, Executive Director of UK Public Relations.

Blanton also said the university is not considering legal action in response. 

While viewed as drastic in the eyes of many, the move itself comes as little surprise, given Bevin’s promises to do so in his inaugural budget address.

Cuts to postsecondary education have been on both Bevin and the Republican-controlled Senate’s budget proposals, who feel the need to do so in the wake of a $36 billion unfunded public pension liability. Both KERS, the retirement system for state workers, and KTRS, the system for public school teachers, are severely underfunded. 

The urgency of the pension crisis was the focus of Gov. Bevin in his statement on Friday, while even suggesting that more funding could be on the horizon for higher education down the road.

“Our pension system is on the brink of insolvency. We have more than $35 billion in pension obligations,” Bevin said in a statement. “It takes leadership from all stewards of taxpayer dollars to keep our commitments to our teachers and state workers. I appreciate our university presidents who recognize the magnitude of this challenge and are willing to participate and contribute to the solution. Once we get our fiscal house in order, Kentucky will be in a much stronger position to make additional investments in higher education.”

The immediate cuts are occurring as the state budget conference committee has been unable to agree to a biennial budget for the Commonwealth. The House and Senate both passed their own proposals, but they were very different in nature. The budget passed through the Senate closely mirrored that of Gov. Bevin, including the same cuts to higher education. The House budget restored all of these cuts, a point of contention that has left negotiators on both sides unable to reach a compromise agreement.