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Op-Ed: Even the Governor Must Follow the Law

This op-ed is written by Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear

I ran for Attorney General to address child abuse, better protect seniors, seek justice for victims of rape and find solutions to Kentucky’s drug epidemic. Not to sue the governor.

But on Jan. 4, I put my hand on my family Bible and made an oath to support the Kentucky Constitution and Kentucky law. I take my responsibility to the constitution and the law very seriously.

I do not take any satisfaction in suing a governor. But as attorney general, it is my job to ensure that no public official acts outside his or her authority, regardless of position. That is my duty.

That duty is why I recently filed suit against Gov. Matt Bevin to undo his unconstitutional and illegal executive order cutting Kentucky’s public universities and colleges. I did so only after advising the governor that his order was not legal, and giving him 7 days to rescind it. The governor refused. 

This is not political.

It’s not about Democrats versus Republicans.

It’s not about the upcoming or future elections.

It is about the law and my duty to enforce the laws that govern the Commonwealth. 

And it is not personal.

It would be my duty under my constitutional oath to sue any governor who acted outside the boundaries of the law. 

Gov. Bevin’s cuts simply are not legal.

Kentucky’s Constitution creates a strict separation of powers where only the legislature can pass laws to appropriate and spend tax dollars. As such, only the legislature can approve the circumstances under which a budget cut or reduction can occur.

The legislature has done so, through specific laws on budget reductions that forbid any reduction unless there is an actual or projected shortfall.  If there is, the legislature includes in the budget a specific plan – the Budget Reduction Plan –that lists the amount and order of any cuts. The legislature passed this plan into law. It is binding.

When the governor issued his order cutting universities and colleges, he refused to follow this mandatory procedure and thereby violated controlling He also violated his constitutional duty to faithfully execute the laws – including the budget laws – passed by the legislature.

The governor’s illegal action on higher education cuts is in stark contrast to how he dealt legally with a road fund shortfall. There, he issued an executive order that documented a predicted shortfall from the Consensus Forecasting Group and followed the Budget Reduction Plan. Why? Because that is the law.

And as the people’s lawyer, it confounds me that the area the governor is determined to cut – so much so he would resort to illegal actions – is higher education.

The critical importance of higher education to our state and its future is actually a matter of law, recognized by the legislature in KRS 164.003. That law tells us in Kentucky, a university or community college education is not a privilege, it is vital for our economic survival.  And adequately funded K-12 education in Kentucky is not a privilege; it is mandated by our constitution.

Those are not opinions, they are law.

And, as the state’s top consumer advocate, it is my duty to point out who these cuts hurt. It would not be university presidents who absorb them; it would be current and future students. Tuition would go up, and it would go up at a time when higher education has never been more unaffordable.

I know our state has important needs and not enough money. Pensions are an issue. But we cannot take illegal actions to create funding for pensions.

In the end, our state is in the same position of every Kentucky family who would like more money to address their most pressing concerns. But no family should commit an illegal act to meet those needs. These same rules apply to the governor. 

Under the governor’s view, a budget is merely a suggestion that creates caps. The legislature is merely an advisory body, and the governor can fully defund things like the SEEK formula or the Kentucky State Police. At any time for any reason.

That is the exact type of absolute power that our constitution, our state constitution and our law forbid. It puts our very liberty at risk. No one has that power.

And it’s my sworn duty to challenge those who think they do. 

Written by Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear