To close a shortfall caused by slumping tax revenues, state officials yesterday announced $26 million in spending cuts from this year's budget, including the elimination of 144 state government jobs.
The plan, approved by Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein, generates a significant portion of its savings simply by implementing promised cuts earlier than previously planned.
Some state employees who have already received a July 1 layoff notice will be told to leave their posts by May 1 instead.
The largest single group affected by that move are the 49 people who teach prison inmates vocational skills or help them earn the equivalent of a high school diploma. That program already wasset to be cut this summer.
"This is very sobering and very real," Mr. Glendening said. "We must act to keep our budget in balance."
The governor blamed the state's lackluster economy on the loss of jobs in the federal government and in businesses that hold federal contracts. Consumer confidence in Maryland has been hurt by two federal government shutdowns and Washington's inability to approve a budget, he said.
The state will also save about $1.1 million by delaying for two months, from May 1 to July 1, the opening of the Western Correctional Institution, a 1,300-bed medium security prison near Cumberland.
The spending cuts, in the budget year that ends June 30, amount to a 1.5 percent reduction in most agency budgets.
In all, about 77 state employees are expected to be laid off as a result of yesterday's action.
"The decisions that cause public employees to lose their jobs are the most difficult," Mr. Glendening said.
Public schools, colleges and universities and local governments were spared by the plan, which helps close a $91.7 million budget shortfall.
The balance will be covered by money not spent during the previous fiscal year, lower-than-expected spending on some programs, and an $18 million withdrawal from the state's "rainy day" fund.
Lawmakers have expressed disappointment with the cut to the prison education program, but only the governor has the authority to restore it.
About 3,700 of the state's 21,000 inmates are enrolled in prison schools, which awarded 985 high school diplomas and 779 work-skills certificates last year.
By trimming the program to special education for inmates under 21 and a 90-day basic skills class for those who can't read at an eighth-grade level, the state will save about $3.2 million next year. Laying off the instructors two months early saves an additional $500,000.
Mr. Goldstein said maintaining a balanced budget is crucial to retaining Maryland's triple-A bond rating.