Kentucky's attorney general has moved forward with a lawsuit against the state's governor, arguing that he overstepped his boundaries with budget cuts made to state colleges and universities without previously gaining the approval of the state legislature.
Attorney General Andy Beshear threatened to file a lawsuit against Governor Matt Bevin, challenging his "blatant violations" of state laws by making unilateral cuts of 4.5%, or $41 million, from colleges and universities in the state for the last three months of the fiscal year.
"I do not take any joy or satisfaction out of this action," Beshear said at a state Capitol news conference. "Over the last seven days, it was my hope that the governor would listen to reason, comply with the law and rescind his order. He did not."
Filed in Franklin County Circuit Court, Beshear said the lawsuit was his answer to the governor's "unconstitutional and illegal order." He is asking a judge to expedite the court review in order to return funding to the schools.
Bevin spokeswoman Jessica Ditto said the governor's office is in strong opposition to the actions taken by Beshear and "will respond as necessary in court."
Kentucky has seen its governor sued by the attorney general before. In 2004, then Attorney General Greg Stumbo challenged the decision of former Gov. Ernie Fletcher to push through a state budget after the legislature failed to do so. In the end, the State Supreme Court ruled against Fletcher.
Taking office in the later half of 2015, Bevin proposed $650 million in state spending cuts over the following two years in order to begin paying off the state's public pension debt, which is currently estimated to reach over $30 billion. Included in his proposal are budget reductions for colleges and universities.
While state lawmakers turned down his plan, they have yet to approve a two-year state spending plan. As time in the legislative session is coming to a close, neither the House or the Senate have included current-year cuts for colleges or universities in their budget proposals. However, Bevin made the cuts anyway.
Beshear claims the action of the governor is in violation of the state Constitution's separation of powers provision, as well as state laws that go into detail concerning specific conditions for budget reductions.
"His actions violate the governor's constitutional duty to faithfully execute the laws passed by the General Assembly," the attorney general said.
He said that the lawsuit is because the governor's actions show he is taking the budget passed by state lawmakers to be "merely a suggestion."
"Folks, that's the type of absolute power that the U.S. Constitution, the Kentucky Constitution and our laws explicitly forbid," he said. "It is a direct challenge to our liberty and our way of life, and it's my job to stand up to anyone who claims to have that power."
The lawsuit exacerbates an ongoing feud between Beshear, Bevin, and former Governor Steve Beshear — the attorney general's father. Prior to taking office, Bevin referred to Steve Beshear as an "embarrassment" after the then-governor appointed his wife to an unpaid position on the board of directors for the Kentucky Horse Park.