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Thursday, February 11, 2010:

The Agenda

Disaster declaration likely to melt storm-related budget crisis

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Aaron.jpg"Team Maryland," as the state's congressional delegation likes to call itself, is bound to chalk this one up as a major victory.

After phone calls with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) and House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) on Wednesday said the Obama administration had agreed to let the region's governments apply for federal aid for the past two storms simultaneously, a move that would allow Maryland, Virginia and the District to seek more money and quicker reimbursement for the cleanup costs of both mammoth snowfalls.

The decision suggests the administration is already inclined to issue presidential disaster declarations for Maryland and elsewhere, and defuses what had become a growing budget crisis for Maryland in recent days.

Sun on mansion.jpgWhile final figures aren't yet available, it's almost a certainty that Maryland has blown past its 2003 record of spending $73.4 million for snow removal costs. That's far beyond what the state had budgeted for. And far worse: cities and towns that had suffered a 95-percent reduction in state aid for snow removal and other road costs under Gov. Martin O'Malley's recent budgets, had begun to dive into the red in current-year spending to cover storm spending.

Underscoring the importance of the likely federal action, Maryland officials estimated on Wednesday that their share of federal aid for snow removal could eclipse the roughly $43 million that state and local governments received for the cleanup of Hurricane Isabel in 2003.

The likelihood of the hefty federal relief fundamentally changes the fiscal calculation for Maryland, its two-dozen counties and 150-plus cities and towns. They can now budget as if a 75 percent federal reimbursement for almost all storm costs is largely a question of when, not if.

That may also take significant pressure off O'Malley (D), who faced a likely full-court press over storm cost reimbursements from counties and local governments given his recent cuts to local road funding, as well as his proposal to continue those cuts into the coming budget year.

If there's one thing with which federal aid won't help, it may be the latter of those decisions by O'Malley. When the snow melts, the winter's storms and plowing operations are likely to have left more potholes and other damage to roads across the state than in any recent year.

As the snow has fallen in Annapolis in recent days, state lawmakers have indicated they may feel obligated to help local governments pay for such repairs, which, of course, would add to the state's own budget gap.

-- Aaron C. Davis

News You Should Know

Grasmick looks left.jpgMd. leads the nation on AP ranking
"Maryland led the nation and Virginia ranked third on a key measure of college readiness, according to a report Wednesday on Advanced Placement test performance by the high school class of 2009," reports The Post's Nick Anderson. "For the second year in a row, Maryland had the highest percentage of public high school graduates who had passed at least one AP test, and its rate of 24.8 percent far exceeded the national average of 15.9 percent. New York came in second, at 23.8 percent, followed by Virginia, at 22.9 percent. The rate is considered an important indicator not only of student performance but also of access to college-level curriculum."

Mike Miller mug.jpgA budget sideshow?
"A meeting to discuss budget cut proposals will be open to all lawmakers, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said Wednesday, after Republicans called the proposed one-party hearing an insincere "sideshow" and turned down an invitation to attend," reports Brian Witte of the Associated Press. "Miller, a Democrat, pledged all recommendations will be considered as the Legislature works on Gov. Martin O'Malley's budget proposal to make up for a $2 billion deficit."

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Dixon photo.jpgFormer Baltimore mayor merits snow security
"With the city in an all-hands-on-deck mode during the third powerful winter storm of the season, the Baltimore Police Department is keeping a patrol officer on a security detail outside former Mayor Sheila Dixon's Southwest Baltimore home," reports The Baltimore Sun's Justin Fenton. "A patrol car with its lights flashing could be seen outside of the home of Dixon, who resigned Feb. 4 after accepting a plea agreement calling for her to step down and pay $45,000 to charity while keeping her pension."


O'Malley on TV.jpg"Stop already with the 'Scrape my street down to the pavement.' That cannot happen for the next 72 hours."
-- Gov. Martin O'Malley (D), addressing citizen expectations during a televised news conference Wednesday

"Due to dangerous weather conditions, Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett's noon update on snow conditions has been cancelled. Mr. Leggett will be available for phone interviews."
-- a news advisory put out Wednesday morning by the press office of Leggett (D)

"To each of you, I'm very proud that you're here."
-- Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert), shortly after calling his chamber to order in the middle of Wednesday's blizzard


Trust First Click for critical news and analysis you need to navigate Maryland politics. Each weekday, First Click brings you The Agenda, a concise, forward-looking analysis of the day's top development in politics or policy. "News You Should Know" breaks down top stories from across the state. And Look Ahead, Unspun, News Makers, and Week in Review keep you up to speed with power brokers in Annapolis and beyond. Want First Click on the go? Sign up for our free e-mail edition, and get the news delivered to your inbox or mobile device.

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By Aaron C. Davis  |  February 11, 2010; 6:45 AM ET
Categories:  Aaron C. Davis , First Click , John Wagner  
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