April 12, 2016 / 1:25 AM / 3 years ago

Kentucky's top lawyer sues governor over college funding cuts

(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 family feud.

Matt Bevin talks with his campaign supporters at his campaign headquarters in Louisville, Kentucky, May 19, 2014. REUTERS/John Sommers II

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 budget laws and 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, adding that his office would respond in court.

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 to reduce a more than $35 billion public pension debt, his office said.

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

The presidents of the University of Kentucky, Morehead State University and other 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 the Beshear family.

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

Before taking office, Bevin called Steve Beshear’s appointment of his wife to a board seat an “embarrassment.” The former Governor has launched a campaign against Bevin’s healthcare initiatives.

“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 said he was not filing the lawsuit “willingly” but because he “must do so to challenge the governor’s view of the law.”‘

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

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