- Associated Press - Friday, April 8, 2016

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - After weeks of intense lobbying against any budget cuts, Kentucky’s college and university presidents joined with House Democrats on Friday to agree to spending reductions if it would end the gridlock over state spending.

But the apparent breakthrough does not appear to have moved state lawmakers any closer to reaching a budget deal, which if not enacted by July 1 would result in a partial shutdown of state government.

Kentucky’s state budget includes $21 billion in state tax dollars. Lawmakers agree on how to spend all but $120 million of that money. Republicans, who control the state Senate, insist they need to take that money from the state’s colleges and universities and use it to help pay down the state’s public pension debt, estimated at more than $30 billion. Democrats, who control the state House of Representatives, have until now refused any cuts to public education.

On Wednesday, college and university presidents had a private meeting with Republican Gov. Matt Bevin and House and Senate leaders at the governor’s mansion. Two days later, nearly all of Kentucky’s college and university presidents signed a letter to Bevin, Republican Senate President Robert Stivers and Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo, saying they would agree to cuts of 2 percent this year and 4.5 percent over the next two years.

Kentucky State University Raymond Burse, who is dealing with his institution’s own budget crisis, did not sign the letter. The letter notes Kentucky State University’s “unique mission will need to be addressed separately.” The letter says the presidents would only agree to the current year cuts “if it is determined by the courts to be permissible.”

“We cannot imagine the circumstance of no budget,” the letter reads. “We make this difficult decision based on our trust that you have committed to making new investments in higher education in the following biennium.”

Also Friday, House Democrats announced their willingness to agree to spending cuts. But their proposal was a lot different than what the college presidents agreed to. House leaders proposed cutting cuts of 2 percent in the budget year that begins July 1. Their proposal would also include about $20 million to guarantee free community college tuition for all Kentucky high school graduates.

“We have worked hard at finding a middle ground since budget talks first began, and we have not gotten much back in return,” according to a statement attributed to House leaders, which include Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo. “However, our university presidents have been put in a position that is unfair and unwise. We still think that postsecondary education should not be cut, but if it is, our plan is the one that should be followed.”

Stivers, the Republican Senate president, issued a statement Friday that thanked House Democrats for being willing to agree to some cuts, but also appeared to reject their proposal.

Last week, Bevin bypassed the state legislature and ordered college and university budgets cut by 4.5 percent this year, or $41 million. Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear said Bevin’s move was illegal and asked him to rescind the order. Terry Sebastian, Beshear’s spokesman, said Beshear could file a lawsuit against Bevin on Monday.

“We continue to believe the governor does not have the authority to take this step,” House leaders said in a joint statement. “We believe that matter should be left up to the courts.”

The state legislature will meet for the final time this year on Tuesday. If they do not pass a budget, Bevin would have to call an expensive special session or else risk a partial shutdown of state government services on July 1.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide