Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker came through a difficult re-election bid with flying colors. The former educator clearly built a broad base of support among residents and business interests during his first term. We hope he becomes even more of a regional leader in his second -- and he is giving early indications he will.
During Monday's inauguration, he made a point of stressing the need for a regional strategy to minimize costs and environmental degradation from solid waste disposal. He's well-respected among area leaders. Now he may be in a stronger political position to push for more cooperation on this matter.
That's not to imply Mr. Ecker's job is all but done at home. A long-delayed transportation plan is due in March and will focus on the county's road network and inadequate public transportation system. The effort to bring business to the county must become more aggressive.
Most important, Mr. Ecker will have to continue to draw on his strength as a former school system budget director. If current projections hold, income-tax revenue growth will continue at a meager 3 percent, far short of the 10 percent hoped for. That could mean a $4 million shortfall by the end of the fiscal year. Officials are already looking at positions that can remain unfilled except in public safety; discretionary spending has been put on hold.
His Republican Party for the first time also controls the County Council. But as former Democratic council chairman C. Vernon Gray pointedly reminded a Republican colleague who sometimes voted against Mr. Ecker in the past, having a majority doesn't guarantee having the votes.
At the top of nearly everyone's agenda in Howard is the high-achieving school system. After visiting the new high school in west Columbia's River Hill village, new council chairman Charles C. Feaga described it as "an Ivy League-type campus" that the county likely can ill afford in the future.
But if attempts are made to press the school board to cut back on the proposed eastern high school, there could be trouble. Equity is already a major issue in Howard, particularly as it relates to disparities between schools in old and new neighborhoods.
Mr. Feaga has a point that the county's sluggish revenue growth demands frugality. Even so, the school issue will be the litmus test of a new era in Howard, since Democratic-dominated councils of the past were anxious to restore school funding cut
by the Republican county executive.