ANNAPOLIS – Gov. Martin O’Malley is considering budget cuts totaling almost $400 million, much of which would come from public safety, education and health services, he said Thursday morning.
After a press conference at St. John’s College, O’Malley said he expected to have budget cut recommendations ready for the Board of Public Works by the end of the day Thursday. The board meets next week.
Maryland needs to make $250 million in cuts to this year’s budget, as well as an additional $1 billion in fiscal year 2010. O’Malley’s administration has already made $1.8 billion in cuts since 2007.
“It’s not that we’re targeting these things now, but we’re not left with anything else when 80 percent of our budget is public safety, public education and public health,” said O’Malley.
More than 100 specific funding cuts are currently under consideration. Budget Secretary T. Eloise Foster made recommendations in a memo to the governor last week.
One of the largest cutbacks being discussed would slice funding in half for the Geographic Cost of Education Index, which provides extra funds to school districts such as Montgomery and Prince George’s where the cost of education is higher. Those cuts would total $38 million.
Other money-saving measures, including furloughs for state employees, are also being considered, said the governor. The six-day furlough currently suggested would save the state $48 million.
Smaller savings under consideration could come from cutbacks in disability assistance payments, community college funding, sex offender monitoring and a veterans mental health initiative.
O’Malley said that balancing Maryland’s budget is contingent on a number of dynamic factors likely to affect consumer confidence, including the presidential election. He also used the opportunity to plug the slots referendum, an item on the ballot in November.
If passed, the referendum would authorize up to 15,000 slot machines at five locations around the state.
“People of our state will decide whether or not we’re going to keep about 500 or 600 million Maryland dollars in Maryland that’s currently going into slots operations in Pennsylvania, Delaware and West Virginia,” O’Malley said.
The governor stressed that thanks to the national economic downturn budget balancing issues are not unique to Maryland. President Bush signed off on a $700 billion bill to bail out the federal financial system last week.
Still, a study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities released in September ranked Maryland’s projected budget gap the 10th largest in the nation as a percentage of the total state budget.
“Cutting spending in an economic downturn causes problems. It can lead to continued economic problems because you’re taking demand out of the economy,” said Elizabeth McNichol, senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, speaking about Maryland’s potential budget cuts.
McNichol said that rather than cutting spending, the best hope for Maryland lies in a strong possibility of Congress passing a second stimulus package directing additional money to states.
The budget crisis became a part of the announcement at St. John’s College naming Alice McDermott as chairwoman of the selection committee for Maryland’s next poet laureate.
In his introduction of O’Malley, St. John’s College President Christopher B. Nelson said the governor has the ability to “steer us through the unhappy sacrifices” that accompany challenging economic times.
“I think art in general is underappreciated, and I think especially in these times, that art can reinvigorate and refresh the soul,” O’Malley said, before closing with a memorized recitation of Patrick Kavanagh’s “On Raglan Road.”