Thursday, December 17, 2009

What I Watched for in 2009, Part Two

By Marc Korman.

In Part One, I took a look at the first three questions of “What to Watch for in 2009.” In Part Two, I will discuss questions 4 and 5.

4. How Testy Are Those Board of Public Works Meetings?

The issue was really about whether Comptroller Peter Franchot would be challenging Governor O’Malley and/or whether Jim Smith, County Executive of Baltimore County, would be challenging Franchot. We now know that Franchot is running for reelection and Smith is a likely candidate for the State Senate seat currently held by Congressional candidate Andy Harris.

My own theory is that part of the reason Governor O’Malley put his differences with the Comptroller aside is because he has needed the Board of Public Works to make approximately $1.1 billion in cuts in three rounds during the fiscal year and will likely need more cuts going forward. Some of these cuts have been controversial and have even raised legal questions as to whether BPW can cut 25% of specific programs or 25% of an entire agency. I think Governor O’Malley wisely realized it was important for him to have a stable relationship with the other BPW members during these turbulent budgetary times, which is why he kept his ally Jim Smith out of the race. As for Franchot, he likely realized that a challenge against a sitting member of his own party was an uphill battle.

5. Is There Any Progress on Transportation?

The results are mixed. The County Council unanimously approved the Purple Line mode and alignment. In a series of votes, the Council unanimously approved two new reversible lanes for I-270, approved light rail for the Corridor Cities Transitway by 6-3, and selected an alignment by a vote of 8-1. An ambitious proposal by Councilman Marc Elrich to create a countywide Bus Rapid Transit system also moved forward with approval of a $500,000 feasibility study.

Unfortunately, the state has had to cut transportation funding to help deal with the budget deficit. The state has also submitted both the Purple Line and Baltimore’s Red Line to the Federal Transit Administration, with the Corridor Cities Transitway a possible third project. Winning federal support for two projects, let alone, three, is an uphill battle.

But the news is better from Washington. At the federal level, $525 million has been obligated for transportation projects from the federal stimulus. A recent appropriations bill passed by Congress included $4.4 million for BRAC intersection improvements in Bethesda. The same bill included $150 million for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, with the funding prioritized for safety projects.

What Did I Miss?

Not surprisingly, my five questions failed to take into account a lot of what has transpired in 2009 politically. I never would have predicted a serious challenge to Congresswoman Donna Edwards developing. Prior to Nancy Navarro’s election, I do not think anyone predicted Nancy Floreen’s elevation to Council President. I was slow to recognize the many State Senate challenges forming in Districts 17, 19, and 39. The District 14 challenge, which I also did not expect, fizzled out early. On policy matters, it was no surprise that the budget has been the dominant issue and likely will be again in 2010.

As always, thanks for reading my posts and those of the other MPW contributors all year.