AUGUSTA (AP) – Almost apologetically, Maine’s mental health chief spelled out a new round of proposed cutbacks Tuesday before a roomful of protesters, many wearing stickers that read “Enough is enough.”

“Our goal remains to maintain core services and keep a network of service providers intact,” Acting Commissioner Sabra Burdick of the Department of Behavioral and Developmental Services told the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee.

“However, we recognize that some of the budget reductions to be discussed today will necessitate painful reductions in services, and will challenge the ability of providers to maintain them,” Burdick said.

Burdick went on to detail some of the major cuts in Gov. John Baldacci’s plan for offsetting a $48 million revenue shortfall in the two-year cycle beginning July 1:

•Reductions of $1.3 million in fiscal 2004 and $1.2 million in fiscal 2005 for adult mental health services.

•Cuts of $545,041 in fiscal 2004 and $607,041 in fiscal 2005 for adult mental retardation services.

•Reductions of $402,740 in each year for substance abuse services.

Throughout the afternoon, witness after witness – people who described living with mental illness and people who told of working with them – seconded Burdick’s dire assessment of the impact of the proposed spending curbs.

The absence of community support services, warned veteran Bangor social worker Mary Ellen Quinn, “will mean an increased number of homeless people, increased suffering with psychosis, increased risk of criminal exploitation, increased risk of self harm and suicide and ultimately will mean an increased census in our emergency rooms, our state hospitals and our jails.”

Quinn added: “The pendulum of support will swing rapidly from community services to institutional services at a much greater price to taxpayers.”

After about three hours of testimony, at least some lawmakers were prepared to look for alternatives.

Judging from my conversations with other committee members, there’s pretty darn near universal feeling that there’s got to be a better way to balance the budget,” said Rep. Ben Dudley, a Portland Democrat on the Appropriations panel.

“I haven’t had a conversation with anybody on the committee that wants to do this,” he said.

To bring the upcoming $5.3 billion biennial budget into balance, Baldacci originally recommended that mental health services be cut by about $5 million.

Baldacci is also proposing to use nearly $9 million from an accounting correction in the state’s business equipment tax reimbursement and to take advantage of reductions in debt service totaling more than $10 million.

AP-ES-05-06-03 1813EDT

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