Thursday, January 07, 2010

What to Watch for in 2010, Part Two

By Marc Korman.

Last time we looked at three of the five items on my list of things to watch for in 2010. Here are the last two.

4. How are Those Deficit Projections?

If you follow the County or State government, you may have noticed a familiar pattern. The Board of Revenue Estimates or the County Office of Management and Budget will announce a projected deficit. Cuts ensue. A few months later, they come out with new numbers and the cutting begins anew. At the state level, that has left the Board of Public Works to do a lot of heavy lifting because the legislature is not in session year round. The current projections for 2010 are $2 billion and $600 million shortfalls at the state and county respectively.

The general consensus is that the worst is behind us and the projections are becoming more accurate as the economy stabilizes. If that is true, deficits will recede as an emergency issue and budget cuts will not crowd out all other action. However, we will likely still hear about structural deficits requiring longer term budget reform (sorry Robin Ficker, that will include the revenue side too). But if the economy double dips into a recession or the recovery is particularly slow, we could continue to face budget shortfalls larger than expected and an increased need for cuts.

5. What is Going on with the Unions?

There are lots of interesting issues with the unions in 2010. Will they be willing to offer contract concessions to help the budget situation, as they did this year by giving up cost of living adjustments? How effective will the teachers be in lobbying on the maintenance of effort issue and the threat of shifting pensions to the counties? Will the Career Firefighters be able to help overcome the Volunteer Fire-Rescue Association’s resistance to an ambulance transport fee? Will the Apple Ballot maintain what Adam Pagnucco calls its status as the WMD of Montgomery County politics by reprising its 2006 success rate? Love them or hate them, and I talk to a surprising amount of Democrats on both sides, the unions have a huge impact on the County and its direction in 2010.

A Few Runner-Ups to Keep an Eye On:

1. What is Frank Kratovil doing? I think the guy is in real political trouble. The question is does he spend the next year trying to hang on to his political life or trying to advance the issues he ran on? Are those two mutually exclusive?

2. Any progress on transportation? Are the Purple Line and Red Line proceeding smoothly through the federal funding process? Have lawsuits begun? Is anyone driving on the ICC, Segment A (I-270/I-370 to MD 97) of which should open in 2010? Is Bethesda getting its fair share of the recently passed $300 million for BRAC (to be split with Fairfax County)?

3. Is Ike Leggett doing anything on Policy Area Mobility Review (PAMR)? The County Executive dodged serious growth policy discussions this year by punting on PAMR. His recommendations are due to the Council by the end of March of 2010 and could lead to a reopening of the growth policy. My bet is the recommendations will be stuck in a drawer until 2011 when the biennial policy is to be reviewed anyway.