"The governor's reduction of the allotments of the universities in this case exceeded his statutory authority," wrote Justice Mary C. Noble in a 50-page opinion. "Whatever authority he (the governor) might otherwise have to require a budget unit not to spend appropriated funds does not extend to universities, which the legislature has made independent bodies politic with control over their own expenditures."
The ruling reverses an earlier one by Franklin Circuit Court Judge Thomas Wingate saying a governor does have the authority to withhold funds appropriated by the General Assembly to universities.
Four justices concurred with Noble in the 5-2 opinion. Justices Daniel J. Venters and Samuel T. Wright III dissented.
At issue in the case is Bevin's controversial directive to cut state funding to universities and community colleges by 4.5 percent during the 2015-16 fiscal year. Bevin later agreed to reduce the cuts to 2 percent and exempt Kentucky State University – the state's smallest university.
The 2 percent cuts amount to about $18 million – money that has been held in a separate account pending the Supreme Court's final ruling.
So no, Matt...you're not king of Kentucky. And several other suits are pending as Bevin took authority in his first six months to do everything from make cuts to colleges to firing entire advisory boards, and if this ruling from the state's highest court is any indication. he's in a lot of trouble.
But the impact of the ruling is huge as it relates to the Republican governor's aggressive exercise of executive power and his ongoing legal clashes with Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear, who filed the lawsuit challenging the university cuts.
"Today, the Supreme Court enforced Kentucky law, reminding us that not even the governor is above the law," Beshear said at a news conference late Thursday morning. "Based on today's ruling, I am calling on Gov. Bevin to immediately release the $18 million he wrongfully withheld from our public universities and colleges."
Beshear also said, "I'm also calling on the governor's office to use today as a turning point. It's time for him to stop attacking and instead to join me in building a better Kentucky."
But the response of the governor's office made clear Bevin is not ready to join Beshear in anything. That response briefly said Bevin disagreed with Thursday's ruling and emphasized that the cuts to universities were part Bevin's broader strategy to save money to address the crisis within state pension funds, which have unfunded liabilities of about $35 billion.
"The Attorney General clearly does not understand the severity of the pension problem which became the nation's worst-funded plan under the watch of his father's (former Gov. Steve Beshear's) administration," Bevin Press Secretary Amanda Stamper said in a statement.
So the fight between Andy Beshear and Matt Bevin continues, Beshear's not sorry he's winning, and Bevin's refusing to apologize while losing.
Welcome to Bevinstan.