Thousands of Marylanders who receive state help for things like medical prescriptions and kidney treatment will be among those who most keenly feel newly imposed budget cuts.
The cuts, which total $127.1 million out of a budget of $11.7 billion, fall heavily on programs administered by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
"These adjustments are difficult and will affect many citizens . . . We regret them," said state budget Secretary Charles L. Benton Jr. "It is our hope, but not our expectation, that this crisis will be short-lived."
The Board of Public Works approved the budget cuts as part of a $176 million cost-containment plan to cope with a growing budget shortfall.
Gov. William Donald Schaefer yesterday said there would be more cuts.
"I think it's going to be very tight," Schaefer said. "Quite frankly, I think we're going to have another round [of cuts]. I believe we're in for tough times."
"This the the first round of pain," said Del. Charles J. Ryan, D-Prince George's, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.
The legislature's fiscal analysts have predicted the state will have a shortfall in the current budget of at least $250 million, which would guarantee another round of significant cuts before the state can have its constitutionally required balanced budget.
The state budget has suffered because of soaring costs in such programs as welfare and Medicaid, as well as slumping tax revenue figures brought on by the weak economy. In addition, the budget has swelled to handle things like $13 million in extra pension costs brought on by higher-than-expected pay raises negotiated by various counties with their school employees.
Much of the budget savings will be achieved by an already imposed hiring freeze, but some programs also will be sliced.
The health department cuts totaled $43.4 million, 3 percent of its $1.4 billion budget. As part of that cut, the department will halt state aid for prescriptions for Marylanders who are not eligible for Medicaid. The program freeze, which will save an estimated $3 million, will begin April 1.
The department will also reduce the amount it pays hospitals and clinics for Medicaid patients, which could raise the rates paid by other patients.
Eliminating the kidney disease program will force many of the program's 3,700 clients to pay more for dialysis and prescriptions. The cut will save the state an estimated $3 million.
The University of Maryland 11-college system saw its spending cut 6 percent -- the highest percentage for any state department. The cuts total $38 million and include a freeze on ambitious faculty hiring plans and reductions in some grant programs.
University of Maryland College Park president William E. Kirwan described the mood among his top deputies as "sober," yet said they realize the cuts in Maryland are not as deep as at other universities of similar size along the East Coast.
"Morale is remarkably high given that we've experienced a 6 percent cut," Kirwan said.