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Monday, February 22, 2010:

The Agenda

Get ready for the spin

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Aaron.jpgPay close attention this week.

On Tuesday, Republicans in the House of Delegates are expected to deliver a counter offer to Gov. Martin O'Malley's proposed spending plan (presumably one that would rely less on one-time fixes and shuffling state money to close Maryland's $2 billion budget gap). By the end of the week, it should also become more clear if business leaders will stick to their hardening position against O'Malley's proposed changes to the state's almost-bankrupt unemployment insurance fund.

MD-OpeningDay-House.JPGIt would be astonishing if either move prompts the General Assembly's Democratic majority to rethink its general acceptance of O'Malley's budget plan. But the political spin that begins to forms this week will likely appear again and again in countless campaigns heading into November.

Conventional wisdom says Maryland Democrats will cast Republicans' budget proposals as out of touch with voters' wants, and that Republicans will push a line that Democrats are steamrolling their efforts to curb state spending.

The latter is an argument that won't matter much in Montgomery, Prince George's, Baltimore and other counties in Maryland's deep blue middle. But on its flanks, in battleground districts on Maryland's Eastern Shore and western hills, it will be interesting to see if the fiscal responsibility issue gains traction with swing voters.

Maryland Republicans are already hoping to capitalize on a national tide of anti-incumbent, anti-establishment sentiment, and pick up five votes needed to break a filibuster in the state Senate. Senate Republicans have called Tuesday's planned budget hearing a political sideshow and are not expected to participate. House Republicans appear to have taken the bait. For their part, business leaders' decisions to reverse course and oppose unemployment insurance fixes are also being increasingly questioned by Democrats as politically motivated.

For their differing approaches, it may be telling if by the end of the week Republican and business messages are merging into one coherent narrative against O'Malley and the state's leading Democrats.

-- Aaron C. Davis


News You Should Know

Obama declares Maryland disaster areas from December storm
Obama side view.jpg"Federal disaster funds are on their way to Maryland," reports WBAL TV. "President Barack Obama has declared eight Maryland counties disaster zones, making them eligible for federal aid. The funds will go towards storm damage during the month of December. Meanwhile, the station reports that the state could decide as early as Tuesday about whether students will have to make up snow days.

O'Malley closeup.jpgSenate panel boosts O'Malley jobs effort
"Businesses that hire unemployed workers could get a $5,000 reward this year, under a proposal advanced Friday by a Senate budget panel," reports Erich Wagner at MarylandReporter.com. "The Budget and Taxation Committee approved a change that would increase the value of the tax credit from $3,000, putting it in line with pending legislation on the federal level. The move keeps the overall cap on the program at $20 million. The program is essentially the only new big ticket spending item for next year's budget." It is also one of several efforts by governors that may have little ability to affect states' economies.

O'Malley's proposed school reforms no surprise to teachers
"Gov. Martin O'Malley consulted with unions on the proposal to extend to three years what is now a two-year probationary period," write The Post's Nick Anderson and Michael Birnbaum in an analysis of the unlikely move by O'Malley to seek changes for Race to the Top funds in the same year he's also seeking a re-election endorsement from the teacher's union. "Union leaders support the proposal because of a provision that would require additional mentoring for teachers at risk of not receiving tenure," write Anderson and Birnbaum. "Other states have gone further than O'Malley. ... Seven states set the probationary term at four or five years. In Virginia and 31 others, the threshold for tenure is three years."

Jockey Club invests heavily in slots petition drive
Thumbnail image for Laurel Park.jpg"The Maryland Jockey Club, which operates Laurel Park racetrack, has spent more than $377,000 on efforts to force a public vote on whether a slots casino should be allowed at a competing location in Anne Arundel County," reports The Post's John Wagner. "The Jockey Club is part of a coalition seeking a November vote on a zoning bill that would allow slots at Arundel Mills mall in Hanover. The Anne Arundel County Council approved the zoning in December, and the state has awarded a license to Baltimore-based Cordish Cos. to operate a casino on the mall property. The Jockey Club outlay, most of it spent on professional signature-gatherers, was reported this month to the Anne Arundel County Board of Elections."

Lawmakers question O'Malley plan for youth programs
"Lawmakers are questioning Gov. Martin O'Malley's proposal to transfer millions in funding from local youth programs to a single state agency," reports The Washington Examiner's Hayley Peterson. "Under O'Malley's proposal, the Governor's Office for Children would open up a competitive campaign for $15.7 million in children's services funding previously administered to 24 local agencies across the state. The measure would cut administrative funding for the local agencies -- called Local Management Boards -- by nearly 70 percent and add five positions to the state office at the cost of nearly $400,000."

Notable Commentary

States face 'lost decade' before regaining financial footing
Thumbnail image for David Broder.jpgLongtime National Governors Association president Raymond Scheppach tells The Post's David Broder that things will return to normal in states no time soon. "'This year will probably be the worst for state budgets, and with the jobless recovery we're having, we're looking at a lost decade" before anything like normality returns,'" Scheppach tells Broder. "In a memo to his member governors, Scheppach spelled it out: 'The bottom line is that states will continue to struggle . . . because of the combination of the length and depth of this economic downturn, the projected slow recovery, and the additional Medicaid responsibilities slated for the states if health-care legislation passed by the House and Senate should become law."


Week Ahead

Monday:

-- House of Delegates hears Washington Day address

Tuesday:
-- Budget hearing: Republicans deliver counter offer to governor's proposed spending plan.
-- House Judiciary Committee hears bills to tighten restrictions on sex offenders.

Wednesday:
-- Board of Public Works combines two meetings into one following postponed meeting because of snow.
-- House Ways and Means committee hears bill to reduce "maintenance of effort" penalties on Montgomery schools.

Thursday:
-- House committee considers "combined reporting" changes to state tax law.

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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 22, 2010; 6:45 AM ET
Categories:  Aaron C. Davis , First Click , John Wagner  
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