10. Balancing the books - With a $1.6 billion (I think its closer to $2 Billion but -who's counting) budget deficit the options for balancing the books is going to look ugly. Buyouts, pension reform, user fees (don't call them taxes), gasoline tax, asking local governments to pick up bigger share of what state gives them...hmmmm.!
9. Keeping Maryland Schools on Top - This is a tough one. For the last three years Maryland schools have been ranked number #1 in the nation. (I don't think they went to Prince George's County or Baltimore City - but they are improving). They have been spared the budget axe. Not this time. Will the axe fall on administration or teachers.
8. Coming in from the cold, MD GOP - for the last eight years the Maryland GOP set its sights on coming back to the governors mansion and increasing their size. Oops they have lost a number of members and are looking for an identity. Former Senator Alex Mooney is the chair of the MD GOP. Was he trying to signal change by suggesting he might run for the Rep. Roscoe Bartlett's seat? And why doesn't Republican County Executive John Leopold get any respect.
7. Who comes after O'Malley? With four years left Governor Martin O'Malley can reward friends and punish enemy's (it's not like he hasn't done it). The early favorites for his seat on the Democratic side are Attorney General Doug Gansler, Comptroller Peter Franchot, Howard County Executive Ken Ulman and what about former Baltimore County Executive Jim Smith. To gauge who's in the running I always watch who's in Annapolis for no apparent reason.
6. Liquor Tax - I appreciate all the individuals who believe a 10 cent a drink tax would be good to offset and help people who need health care coverage but this isn't going anywhere. Let's be clear the tax hasn't been changed since 1954. Guess what there's a reason for this and it begins with Senate President Mike Miller. His family owns a liquor store. He calls the suggestion of a "alcohol tax; nonsense." That pretty much ends the conversation.
5. Slots and Horse Racing: What a debacle. Eleventh hour negotiations produced a horse racing season this year but literally, all bets are off come 2012. The states major Thoroughbred race tracks want a redo because they were shut out of the slots business. Rosecroft Raceway has new buyers if only they will allow slots and table games. Baltimore's slots emporium is tied up in courts. Remember to change any of the rules there must be a statewide referendum.
4. Lobbying - Shhhhh!!!! don't tell anyone but there is likely to be a record year for people who pay to influence government. Pick a subject and someone has an axe to grind or money to pay for influence. It will be interesting to see the financial reports.
3. Local Jurisdictions - Can they keep the state from pulling back on providing resources while at the same asking for more assistance. This won't be pretty. There are some pretty savvy executives and the arm twisting has just begun.
2. New players with agenda's - There are 10 new Senators and 30 new Delegates. Some are familiar faces (Del. Herb McMillan) others are moving from one chamber to another (Senators Joanne Benson and Victor Ramirez). I'm watching Senator Ramirez. As the Senate's first Hispanic member he will be pushing this body to recognize the sons and daughter of undocumented workers. This body didn't want to deal with the issue but maybe this time with an advocate it could get a real hearing.
1. Who will O'Malley be? When you're in your last term as governor you can make bold statements and deliver on promises and crave out your legacy. With the defeat of his Republican nemesis, Robert Erhlich he doesn't have to be cautious. Will he throw caution to the wind or make calculate moves. This why I love watching politics.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained.