ANNAPOLIS – State leaders dropped the budget guillotine Wednesday, slicing nearly $350 million from hospitals, jails and a slew of other programs – even school chess.
The Board of Public Works, at a packed hearing near the State House, unanimously approved the cuts, which affect more than 180 agencies, offices and programs. The board’s vote also wiped out 833 positions, most of which were vacant.
Board members described the cuts as painful but necessary, given the state’s financial woes. Among other problems, the country’s struggling economy has slashed Maryland’s income and sales tax receipts, leaving the state with less money for salaries and operations.
The cuts apply to the current fiscal year’s budget.
“There are certain services for the public that simply cannot be continued because we don’t have the resources for it,” said Treasurer Nancy Kopp, who sits on the three-member board with Gov. Martin O’Malley and Comptroller Peter Franchot.
Some agencies were hit harder than others.
The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, for example, had $127 million in cuts that will affect services for the disabled and veterans, among others.
“I’m under no illusion that these are not significant,” said Health and Mental Hygiene Secretary John Colmers. “They’re likely not to be the last.”
The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore had nearly $190,000 sucked from its budget. As a result, the zoo may have a temporary hiring freeze and be forced to close on Mondays, among other options being considered, said president and CEO Donald T. Hutchinson.
Elsewhere in Maryland, cost-cutting measures include reducing hours of operation and limiting the use of contracted labor. Even school chess programs lost $25,500.
“Naturally, everyone would like to have more money in their budget, but we’re going to do our part” to cut costs, said Roger Hill, chief operating officer of Historic St. Mary’s City, a state-owned museum in southern Maryland. The museum had $88,000 cut from its budget.
The board’s vote comes amid a string of bad economic news for the state. On Tuesday, officials slashed Maryland’s expected revenue stream by nearly $600 million, and recent reports have outlined the rise in unemployment claims, welfare receipts and foreclosures.
Next month, officials will release updated revenue estimates, and many predict another write-down.
“We’re in a better position to fight the economic downturn in this national economy than many other states,” O’Malley said. “But we are not immune.”
Capital News Service’s Jessica Groover contributed to this report.