By Glenn Adams
AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. John Baldacci on Wednesday ordered nearly $80 million in curtailments in state programs with education and human services programs absorbing the bulk of the impact of cutbacks that result from an ailing national economy that’s sliding into recession.
“All states are going through this, and Maine is not immune,” Baldacci said at a State House news conference. “These are hard times, and everyone is suffering.”
The curtailments make up for more than half of a budget shortfall of $100 million to $150 million through the end of June. Baldacci said a budget revision package he will present by Dec. 15 will account for the remaining shortfall, and he promised yet another round of cuts in the next budget for the two years starting July 1.
The cuts affecting education, totaling more than $27 million, will take a toll on state school subsidies. That could cause layoffs and overtime holds, combined bus routes and fewer field trips, Education Commissioner Susan Gendron said.
“My advice to school districts is you need to start planning now” for lower subsidies, Gendron said.
Curtailments will affect the Department of Health and Human Services to the tune of $30 million, but Commissioner Brenda Harvey said $25 million is addressed through accounting adjustments, so the impact on programs will be $5 million.
The $5 million cut will affect contracts with community service providers. The waiting list for home services for elderly will grow faster, and some people receiving mental health services will be put on a waiting list, Harvey said.
The University of Maine System expressed relief with the $8.3 million funding reduction, or 4.2 percent, it faces. The figure was reduced from the $10.6 million cut that was originally proposed.
“We appreciate that, in these enormously difficult financial times, Governor Baldacci clearly recognizes the essential role that Maine’s public universities must play in Maine’s economic recovery,” Chancellor Richard Pattenaude said in a statement.
Widespread layoffs are not possible in curtailments because the governor cannot make state program changes without legislative approval. But the governor did not rule out layoffs after he presents his supplemental budget in the weeks ahead.
Baldacci said four people will lose their jobs as a result of Wednesday’s cuts.
The announced cuts also call for no changes in taxes, fees or other revenue enhancers, Baldacci said. The budgets for the Legislature and judiciary avoid cuts in the curtailment order, but will be included in the supplemental budget for the current fiscal year, officials said.
Republican legislative leaders issued a statement saying they want to review Baldacci’s order in detail, but “we want to make it clear these are turbulent economic times that require difficult decisions.”
The statement by Senate Minority Leader Kevin Raye of Perry and House Minority Leader Josh Tardy of Newport offered to work with the governor on a bipartisan basis to achieve the desired cut. It also said Republicans hope to identify alternative reductions in some areas, particularly with respect to education.
Democrats expressed concern that the safety net for Maine’s most vulnerable people remains intact.
“The national economic crisis is hitting Maine’s economy, and people will be looking for help,” said House Speaker Glenn Cummings of Portland, whose term ends Dec. 3. “I am reassured to see that the governor’s guiding principle as he moves forward with this difficult process is to ensure the safety net remains strong for our neighbors who will be relying on it.”