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Kentucky's University Presidents Worry Over Budget Cuts

Gov. Matt Bevin said on Tuesday he would issue a 4.5 percent spending cut for the rest of this fiscal year to nearly all state agencies, including state universities. He also proposed cutting spending by 9 percent for the next two years.

On Wednesday, the presidents of Kentucky’s flagship universities responded to Bevin’s proposal with concern.

In an email to students and faculty, University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto said the school is trying to preserve its teaching, research and service missions despite the cuts.

“Certainly, the magnitude of reductions in the governor’s budget proposal presents significant challenges to our university,” Capilouto said. “We will work in a spirit of cooperation with the governor and legislators to make clear our needs. But we must acknowledge the fiscal realities of our state."

University Louisville President James Ramsey -- who has for years complained publicly about state cuts to university funding -- shot back at Bevin’s budget in a statement to reporters, saying he was “disappointed.”

“The challenges we face in continuing to move forward to meet our statutory mandate, given 16 budget cuts over 17 years, have and will take a toll on our ability to move forward,” he said.

Ramsey said U of L has a plan for getting through a tough fiscal environment, but it “cannot relieve the entire pain that continued cuts impose.”

It’s unclear if Bevin would be able to enact the 4.5 percent cut to state funds this year without legislative approval. House Speaker Greg Stumbo said issuing the cut by executive order would be illegal and make the state vulnerable to a lawsuit.

“Anybody that would have standing would be any person or entity that would be adversely affected by an act which was not done in conformity with the statute," he said. "And the court can award costs in those cases, so we’ve got to be pretty careful about those things."

Governors are allowed to make emergency reductions to state spending to remedy a budget shortfall, as former Gov. Steve Beshear did in 2014.

In his budget presentation, Bevin also proposed gradually funding state universities based on performance, with universities competing for one-third of their normal state funding by the 2018 fiscal year.

Ramsey praised that move.

“We look forward to working with the governor on a performance funding model that recognizes the amazing academic trajectory the University of Louisville has been on for over a decade and how funds can be appropriated to support that continued trajectory in the future,” Ramsey said.