Thursday, April 07, 2016

University presidents meet with Bevin, won't say much

This from the Daily Independent:
There were no public meetings, but key state lawmakers on Wednesday continued looking for a compromise on a state budget while the governor had a lengthy meeting with university presidents who didn’t want to talk about it afterward.
Gov. Matt Bevin

Lawmakers are divided on a new budget, with the Republican Senate supporting Republican Gov. Matt Bevin’s plan to cut many state agencies, including universities and community colleges, 4.5 percent this year and 9 percent the next two years and use the savings to bolster the state’s troubled pension systems.

House Democrats insist there are sufficient resources to tackle the pension problem without penalizing higher education. That’s the issue over which the two sides broke off negotiations last week.

The university presidents have said Bevin’s proposed cuts will be damaging to their services, hurt students and inevitably lead to higher tuition costs.

But last week, Bevin unilaterally implemented the 4.5 percent cuts for this year without consulting with the legislature. House Speaker Greg Stumbo and Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear said he exceeded his legal authority, and Beshear said if Bevin doesn’t rescind the cuts by the end of the week, he’ll sue.

Bevin issued a statement last week thanking the presidents for their cooperation and implying they were on board with the cuts because they understood and supported the need for more funding for pensions.

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said much the same thing Wednesday, explaining the presidents understand the need for the state to confront pension issues.

But the presidents can hardly oppose Bevin publicly at this point. He appoints their boards, and unless Beshear is successful in court, Bevin controls their state funding.

However, it was still something of a surprise Wednesday when some of the presidents were spotted leaving the governor’s mansion after what was apparently a three-hour-plus meeting with Bevin.
Those interviewed by CNHI News Service were reluctant to say much.

Dr. James Ramsey, University of Louisville president, deflected a reporter’s questions about the meeting, saying he was on a cell call. Asked if it was a good meeting, Ramsey turned his hands palms up and gave a noncommittal response.

Asked if there was progress or a compromise with the governor, Ramsey simply said, “Not really,” as he drove away.

Dr. Robert King, president of the Council on Postsecondary Education, declined to characterize the tone of the meeting or describe what was discussed. But asked if he thought the meeting produced any progress, he said, “I think so.”

Dr. Wayne Andrews of Morehead State University didn’t return messages seeking comment, nor did Bevin’s news spokeswoman. Murray State University President Robert Davies declined to comment through a spokesman.

Stivers, on the other hand, was upbeat about a potential compromise.

He said there were discussions Wednesday between Republican senators and House Democrats on various budget units, including conversations between him and Stumbo.

“It’s gone very well today, in my opinion,” Stivers said. “Discussions are still good and ideas are being exchanged.”

Stivers went so far as to say he thinks chances “are still good” the two sides can come to some sort of compromise in time for both chambers to vote on a new budget when they convene for the final day of the 2016 General Assembly on Tuesday.

Stivers said Bevin has had budget discussions with some lawmakers and others, but he didn’t know all the people he may have talked to.

But when asked if the Senate was prepared to budge on its insistence that funding for universities be cut, Stivers said, “We’re very much still in that mode.”

Democrats have said they won’t agree to such cuts. But Stumbo had left the Capitol and was unavailable for comment following Stivers’ comments to reporters, according to his news spokesman.

Stivers said the deadline for an agreement that would provide enough time to get a budget before rank and file lawmakers by Tuesday would be sometime Sunday.

Stivers also believes Bevin is within his authority to cut university funding without legislative approval.
 And this from EKU President Michael Benson (via campus email...emphasis in original)

Dear Colleagues:

Late yesterday afternoon, all of the presidents of Kentucky’s universities and colleges were notified of a meeting to be held today, at the request of Matt Bevin, in Frankfort at the Governor’s Mansion.  All nine of the presidents were in attendance, along with members of House and Senate leadership and the Governor’s budget director, John Chilton.

After nearly 3 hours of discussion, debate, and deliberation, I am slightly more hopeful that some type of negotiated agreement might be reached by our elected officials within the next few days.  Included below is a brief summary of the latest budget debate news  from Chris Nolan, one of people with whom we work in Frankfort.  I hope it is helpful in keeping everyone up-to-date with the latest developments.

Budget talks resumed behind closed doors Wednesday as key legislative leaders, the Governor and university presidents met for several hours and renewed their efforts to try to break an impasse in the budget negotiations.  However, there was no apparent breakthrough in the negotiations. 

The key points at issue are the current year 4.5 percent budget cuts to higher education that the Governor issued by executive order last week and any potential vetoes the Governor could issue without the legislature being able to override them.  The two issues are tied together because the House Democrats are questioning why they should strike a budget agreement over any potential cuts to education if the Governor believes he has the ability to cut education at any time through executive order as he did last week. 

The Senate and Governor have proposed cuts to higher education and use the money to put into a fund to pay down the state’s enormous pension liabilities.  The House has said other revenues can be dedicated toward pension payments and there is no need to cut any part of education, especially since the state had a budget surplus and there is no crisis of a shortfall.  Universities, meanwhile, have become the political football in the budget negotiations.

Despite the impasse, Senate President Robert Stivers (R) said afterwards that “chances are good” that legislators will pass a two-year, $21 billion budget for the state before the legislative session adjourns next week.  Stivers added, “ Information is being exchanged, ideas are being discussed and there have been some very good conversations today.”

House Speaker Greg Stumbo (D) has been mum publicly and has made no comments on Wednesday’s negotiations.  Discussions are complicated by the fact that the last offer Senate Republicans put on the table had no higher education cuts in the current year and 4.5% cuts during the new budget biennium.  However, the Governor’s subsequent executive order cutting universities 4.5% in the current year is looked at as a step backwards by Democrats. 

Even if an agreement can be reached on education cuts, House and Senate leaders have yet to discuss other significant differences in the budget such as cutting funding for Planned Parenthood and suspending prevailing wage on state contracts.  Both issues are hyper partisan and have yet surface publically.

The deadline to get a final agreement for an April 12 vote is late Sunday.  House-Senate negotiators are expected to discuss the budget amongst their respective leadership teams tomorrow morning (Thursday) and then have more private meetings.

When lawmakers recessed last Friday — the 59th day of the 60-day session — budget negotiations broke off after House and Senate leaders failed to agree on cuts to higher education and money for public pension payments.  If there is no budget compromise by the current last day of the session on Tuesday, April 12, the Governor would have to call lawmakers back for a special session or preside over a partial government shutdown that would begin July 1.  Only the governor can call a special session and set its agenda.  A special session would cost taxpayers about $70,000 a day and last at least five days.  Under a partial shutdown, the governor could spend money only on statutorily or constitutionally required services and federal mandates.

We will continue to keep you all apprised of any new happenings. 

Until then, #KeepCalmAndCarryOn.

Thanks for your continued service.

Kind regards,

Mike Benson

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