Kentucky’s state colleges and universities are reeling from Governor Matt Bevin’s unilaterally imposed 2 percent late fiscal year budget cut, and in the face of 4.5 percent budget cuts as of July 1, and another 4.5 percent cut again next year. (The state’s fiscal year runs from July 1 through June 30.)
Here are some impacts so far:
Morehead State University’s employees are on unpaid furlough for five days, and 65 positions have been cut.
The University of Kentucky is expecting to lay off 90 staff. UK also is rolling back its subsidies for county extension agents’ benefits. County governments, if they can, will be expected to make up the difference.
Eastern Kentucky University is implanting a 5 percent tuition increase, a hiring freeze and reducing employee benefits.
Murray State University is eliminating 42 positions.
Northern Kentucky University is eliminating 105 positions.
And the Kentucky Community and Technical College system is losing 506 positions across the state.
June 6 is the first Innovation Summit hosted by SOAR [Shaping Our Appalachian Region]. It’s a milestone for eastern Kentucky to have a state and federal platform that is focused on creative avenues for economic growth. In fact, innovation is the bedrock to our country’s 21st century economy and frankly eastern Kentucky has a lot to prove if we are to compete.
Support from the federal government has gone a long way in helping our region contribute to this country’s innovation boom. Unfortunately, that money has been slow in coming, or is being wasted on other things. For example, Congress, with the help of Congressman Hal Rogers, recently allocated $444 million to Letcher County – but the money won’t be spent on innovation or community-driven solutions. It will be spent on bringing a federal prison here.
Homes for All is a national campaign with international connections organized to face a commonly un-acknowledged international housing crises. In cities and rural places rents are rising and gentrification is putting serious pressure on working class and people of color.
We took our climate justice work to the world stage at the COP21 climate talks in Paris, helped pass a minimum wage increase in Lexington, and moved the needle on voting rights. And in communities across Kentucky, we raised our voices for renters’ rights, environmental protection, racial justice and more.
There hasn’t been a week that’s gone by this legislative session without our deeply underfunded state budget making the news. Kentuckians have felt the impact of more than $1.6 billion in budget cuts since 2008 and are concerned about possible cuts this year.
In a highly unusual move, the U.S. Supreme Court voted 5-4 to issue a stay on implementation of the Clean Power Plan. The federal rule, which was issued by the U.S. EPA last summer, aims to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from the U.S. power sector. The court’s order halts the Clean Power Plan from taking effect until a legal challenge to the rule filed by more than two dozen states and many fossil fuel interests is resolved.
The decision was an unprecedented procedural ruling – not a determination about the merits or validity of the rule – that temporarily pushes the pause button until the larger legal issues are considered and resolved. In fact, in its one page order, the Court did not provide its reasons for issuing the stay. According to an article in the New York Times, the Supreme Court has never before granted a request to halt a regulation before its review by a federal appeals court. The justices themselves did not take long to consider the details of this complicated case. Final legal briefs from the parties defending the rule were filed on Thursday afternoon; the court’s position was announced the following Tuesday.
The broader legal case about the validity of the Clean Power Plan rule is expected to move forward on an expedited timeline, but even so it could take as long as two years to reach a final resolution. The DC Circuit Court is scheduled to hear the case on June 2, 2016. It will likely issue a ruling by the fall of 2016. Regardless of that outcome, the issue is expected to be appealed to the Supreme Court. If the Supreme Court issues another stay and takes the case, it could rule as early as the spring of 2017 or as late as the following spring. Only then could the EPA move forward to enforce the rule, if it is ultimately upheld.
Early reactions news from KFTC members and allies across the country made it clear that people working for a just transition and climate justice are troubled but undaunted by this decision.
“I’m so glad we called this part of KFTC’s work ‘Empower Kentucky,” because that’s exactly what we are doing, and what we continue to do,” reflected KFTC’s chairperson Dana Beasley Brown shortly after the news broke on Tuesday evening.
“Our work has to go on,” said Lexington KFTC member Chris Woolery. “Energy efficiency and renewable energy are no-regrets solutions that literally pay for themselves. That’s the direction the world is moving. That’s where jobs are booming. And that’s the kind of leadership Kentuckians want. But we can’t wait for our leaders. We have to move on without them.”
The day after the court ruling, the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet announced it was suspending plans to hold public hearings this spring about ways Kentucky might comply with the Clean Power Plan. In contrast, KFTC’s public engagement process will ramp up this spring, including public meetings in each congressional district.
“This gives us more time to build an even better Empower Kentucky plan and keep pushing forward,” reflected Steve Wilkins of Berea. “Unfortunately, some states like Kentucky may take this as an excuse to sit on their hands and do nothing. If so, we’ll just keep falling further and further behind. The gap will just grow wider between us and leading states that are making smart investments in clean energy. It seems nobody in a position of power has a vision for a new Kentucky. With a few exceptions, they are all looking backwards. We deserve better.”
In many ways, the court ruling doesn’t change the important work in front of us here in Kentucky. KFTC members already knew that making meaningful progress on clean energy will require long-term, creative, and determined organizing to change the conversation and build political will. In fact, that’s what the Empower Kentucky project is all about.
In announcing the project last fall, KFTC member Elizabeth Sanders said, “It won’t be easy to transform the ways we generate and use energy in Kentucky. Our economic, energy and political systems have long been shaped by fossil fuels, especially coal … We will not wait for our politicians to do the right thing … We are Kentuckians. We are our best hope for change. And together we will write a plan ourselves to make our communities more livable, strengthen our economy and support a just transition while meeting or exceeding the Clean Power Plan’s goals for cutting climate pollution.”
Empower Kentucky will take a major step forward in April, when KFTC will host a series of community conversations in each congressional district. These forums are an opportunity for Kentuckians to learn and share ideas about the energy future we want to see. Public input from those meetings – along with additional ideas gathered through an on-line survey, interviews and listening sessions – will help inform KFTC’s Empower Kentucky plan.
A schedule of the April events, which are open to the public, will be announced soon.
Members gathered all over the state, from Madison County to Whitesburg to Covington to Lexington, last night to watch, process, and come up with action plans to push for adequate funding for health care and preserving kynect and Medicaid expansion, access to higher ed, protecting the arts, and community health.