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Thursday, January 21, 2010:

The Agenda

Legislature will likely have to find $400 million budget fix

MD-OpeningDay-House.JPGGov. Martin O'Malley (D) on Wednesday released a spending plan that looks strikingly similar to the one he proposed a year ago. It again relies on $900 million in accounting maneuvers to cover half the state's shortfall. Like last year, it also pencils in $389 million in new federal stimulus funding -- this time, in the form of more aid for Medicaid costs included in the House version of health-care reform.

But while O'Malley's preferences for closing the state's budget gap remained largely the same from a year ago, the world around him suddenly changed. A Republican victory Tuesday night in the Massachusetts race to fill the open seat left by the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy significantly lowered the likelihood Maryland might ever see the $389 million.

White House officials acknowledged Wednesday that it would be difficult to get the Senate to go along with any such changes before the party loses its filibuster-proof majority. Some congressional Democrats and even President Obama on Wednesday also appeared to support the possibility of having both the House and Senate start from scratch on health-care reform talks.

Together, the developments suggested the coming weeks may bring none of the certainty about increased federal aid that Maryland lawmakers enjoyed last year when Congress passed the federal stimulus package in February, just weeks into state budget negotiations.

Without similar certainty before the state's General Assembly votes on the budget, some lawmakers say they'll at least want a contingency plan in place so that O'Malley and the state's Board of Public Works aren't later put in charge of deciding hundreds of millions of dollars more in cuts without legislative oversight.

Question is: Will the legislature's Democratic majority identify programs or employees to cut, or further increase borrowing and other one-time maneuvers to cover the near $400 million gap?

-- Aaron C. Davis

News You Should Know

Miller: State should cut more from local governments

Miller bill signing.jpgO'Malley's office was still distributing budget books Wednesday when Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) let reporters know that he has several "tweaks" in mind," writes The Post's John Wagner. "As a general rule, the legislature in Maryland cannot add to the governor's budget but is empowered to make cuts. Miller said he does not plan "to take a meat ax to the budget" but said he expects his chamber's budget committee will make "some prudent cuts" to O'Malley's proposal." For one thing, he cited the $20 million O'Malley (D) has proposed for a Chesapeake Bay cleanup fund created in 2007. "The Bay fund is great," Miller said, "but that could be cut. ... Nothing is sacrosanct." Miller said he also thinks O'Malley went too easy on Maryland counties. State aid to local governments, including education funding, accounts for about 40 percent of the state general fund. "Obviously they should be bearing more" of the budget cuts, Miller said.

Ehrlich would start race with little campaign cash

Ehrlich.jpg"If he runs for governor again, Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) will start the race with a relatively depleted bank account, a report filed Wednesday confirmed. The former governor reported having only $141,778.90 cash on hand, following a year in which his campaign organization spent slightly more than it raised," Wagner writes. "Gov. Martin O'Malley (D), by contrast, started the 2010 election year with more than $5.7 million in the bank, according to aides. His report was not publicly available as of 5 p.m. Wednesday. Ehrlich aides telegraphed last week that raising money had not been a focus during the past year. Boosters of the former governor say he could jump-start his fundraising very quickly if he decides to seek a rematch with O'Malley. Still, O'Malley is starting the year with a significant advantage."

'Another nudge' for Ehrlich?

"Just two Republicans have been elected governor of heavily Democratic Maryland in the past four decades, but state political strategists say the time has never been better for another victory," writes The Baltimore Sun's Julie Bykowicz, who says Scott Brown's victory in Massachusetts this week provides "another nudge" for former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) to run again.


Barve at mike.jpg"I like fixing things"
Unspun: Kumar P. Barve
An offbeat interview with the Maryland House Majority Leader from Montgomery County

Was there a television show that you never missed as a kid?
"Star Trek." ... I love science fiction. ... You know, it was diverse before diverse was cool. I think it was the first show that actually had a black guy as a judge in a trial. I also liked the idea of using logic to solve problems.

What's your biggest goof?
I should have gotten better grades in college and gotten a better job with a Big 8 accounting firm. But if had done that, I'd have a much more dull life than I have now. My mother calls these things "blessings in disguise." I prefer the term "dumb luck."

Check back here at 11 a.m. for the complete interview, in which Barve also discusses how he relaxes, what he's reading and what his colleagues think about him.

We're striving to make First Click your essential daily guide to Maryland politics. Each weekday morning First Click provides a concise analysis of upcoming political and policy decisions, and a roundup of the state's top political news. Have a comment or question? Write it down. Have we missed something? Write a comment and let us know that, too.

By Aaron C. Davis  |  January 21, 2010; 6:45 AM ET
Categories:  Aaron C. Davis , First Click , John Wagner  
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Next: Unspun -- Kumar P. Barve

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