Expect legislators to shun drama in an election year [Editorial]

January 09, 2014

Political pundits and poohbahs are weighing in on what to expect as the 2014 Maryland General Assembly convenes Wednesday and various agendas come to the fore. Every legislator has a want list and hours can be spent taking the temperatures of our lawmakers and trying to figure out what will emerge when the bell rings to end the session in three months.

But there is one thing to keep in mind that will likely shape almost everything that happens — it's an election year.

Drama? Controversy? Legislators will shy away. If you are hoping for a bill to legalize marijuana or raise the minimum wage, don't bet the farm. Those convening in Annapolis view a vote on such hot-button issues as clubs that can be used to beat them by any challenger back in the home district.

Tangible public works? That's more like it. Legislators love to say, "See what I gave you?" A vote to approve an artificial turf field on the Catonsville campus of the Community College of Baltimore County sounds like a good bet. Del. James Malone, whose district includes the campus, said he plans to work for this.

Expect an effort to reform or tweak the stormwater abatement fee, denigrated all over the state as a "rain tax." With voters and some county leaders around the state in revolt against the fee, legislators have every reason to revisit this unpopular law passed last year.

The gorilla in the room, of course, is the budget. This year's session will see legislators trying to find a solution to a $480 million deficit and you can believe in your heart they will do anything to avoid backing a tax increase in an election year. Budget cuts are also unpalatable, but that budget fix will probably come in as the second worst — and therefore more acceptable — solution.

Expect that Gov. Martin O'Malley will probably stay mostly on the sidelines. He has his legacy, including passing same-sex marriage and bringing in casinos, and will probably be content to rest on his laurels at this point.

Of course, these are just surmises based on testing the political winds and knowing that Maryland legislators do not usually deliver surprises. Expect calm before the storm, that is, the elections.

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