Friday, April 08, 2016

Bevin’s solo cuts demand challenge

This from the Herald-Leader:
Senate President Robert Stivers and other Republican lawmakers should be as concerned as Democrats about the constitutional implications of Gov. Matt Bevin’s executive order altering appropriations enacted into law by the legislature in the 2014 budget.
Senate President Robert Stivers

A lot more is at stake than just the immediate 4.5 percent cuts Bevin ordered last week in higher education’s current year appropriation — an order that prompted Attorney General Andy Beshear to threaten a lawsuit unless Bevin rescinds it.

If this precedent stands, a governor could drastically remake state government by cutting or even eliminating funding for a particular agency or function after the legislature goes home, over the legislature’s objections. A governor could punish lawmakers by retroactively reducing appropriations to their districts.

Indeed, what’s the point of the legislature enacting a budget if the governor is free to unilaterally cut appropriations when there is no revenue shortfall?

On Wednesday, Stivers said, “I think the governor has the right to do what he has done.” Also, “With all due respect to Attorney General Beshear, I think a lot of people are posturing politically.”
This conflict makes for political drama, no doubt. A Democratic AG and son of a Democratic governor clashes with his father’s Republican successor.

But the larger concern should transcend the politics of the moment. Bevin’s order erodes the legislature’s standing as a branch of government, upsetting the constitutional balance of power. Also, state laws make it clear that a governor lacks authority to make cuts absent a revenue shortfall, as well as shielding higher education from changes in funding allotments.

Governors come and go. The fortunes of political parties wax and wane. Lawmakers of both parties should want to protect the legislature’s authority from this encroachment by the executive. The budget is a law, and executing the laws of the state is the governor’s foremost duty.

All this could become moot if Bevin rescinds the order or depending on what lawmakers mandate in the next biennial budget, which is still up in the air.

Otherwise, Beshear has no choice but to challenge Bevin’s action. The budget is one of the many laws that the governor is not supposed to be above.

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