ANNAPOLIS, JAN. 7 -- Gov. William Donald Schaefer is making plain that it's not party time in Maryland.

As a result of the state's budget deficit, Schaefer canceled three inaugural receptions today that had been planned for next week, a move aides said is in keeping with plans for an austere start to the governor's second term.

In a letter to about 900 supporters and political associates, Schaefer said that the $423 million in spending cuts and funding shifts he has made since August were "some of the toughest decisions in my years of public service . . . . I have had to cut programs which truly help people."

The receptions that had been scheduled at the governor's mansion for the night of the inauguration, Jan. 16, and for the following two nights would have cost the state a total of $15,000 to $18,000, according to Schaefer spokesman Paul Schurick. Schaefer asked that his disinvited guests donate any money that would have been spent on inaugural activities to charities.

"I had looked forward to seeing you, thanking you personally and celebrating our good work together," Schaefer wrote. "I know that our paths will cross soon on other occasions and at that time I will thank you personally."

With the party cancellations and other efforts to scale back the inauguration activities, Schurick said this year's event will cost the state less than the $36,000 spent when Schaefer took office in 1987.

Plans have been scrapped to decorate the road leading to the State House with bunting. And donations are being sought to underwrite a morning reception for elected officials before Schaefer and Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg are sworn in.

Inauguration Day will be a "simple, austere" affair, Schurick said. "No ball. No parade. The governor wears a regular suit."

About 2,500 people are expected to gather outside the State House for Schaefer's inaugural address, scheduled for 12:30 p.m.

Schaefer and Steinberg will take the oath of office at noon in the state Senate chambers.