By Karen anderson
ANNAPOLIS – Maryland’s Board of Public Works got through its Wednesday meeting without making additional cuts to the state’s budget, but the long-term repercussions of the $700 million that have already been cut dominated the meeting’s agenda.
An additional $300 million in cuts may be needed, Gov. Martin O’Malley told reporters after the meeting.
“Our state government is one of the first entities to feel the squeeze across the range of services we provide,” said O’Malley, “and one of the last to see the pressure ease up and see some alleviation as the recovery starts to happen.”
An announcement about the need for further cuts could come Thursday when the Board of Revenue Estimates meets in Annapolis.
“We’re at the point where the steps you have to take to make the budget balanced right now will reduce programs and services so much that it will create greater costs in the future,” said Maryland Treasurer Nancy Kopp, who serves on the board with O’Malley and Comptroller Peter Franchot.
State agencies are bracing themselves to get by with even less.
“With the anticipated news that we will hear [Thursday] I am not looking forward to additional actions we will have to take,” said Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Secretary John Colmers, during Wednesday’s meeting.
Colmers is scrambling to compensate for the elimination of the Upper Shore Community Mental Health Center in Chestertown, a state hospital that has a 90-member staff and cares for roughly 200 patients.
The center is set to close in February as a result of budget cuts and its patients will be moved to other facilities in the state.
“We are at the point now where the cuts we’re taking are profound and difficult,” said Colmers, adding that his department had been hit particularly hard. “The actual cuts to departments amount to well over $600 million dollars. Over $300 million of those occurred at the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.”
“The problem is we are now cutting into the important, core programs that impact the lives of Maryland citizens, including the most vulnerable,” Kopp said, anticipating that the effects of these cuts would be felt for years.
Although Kopp said the Board of Public Works is attempting to remain focused on the most basic priorities required to care for the state’s communities — emphasizing education, health and public safety — the particular programs and services will have to be downsized to a point where the state can afford them.
“Our bottom line is you can’t spend what you don’t have,” she said.