Don't expect much in the way of policy from government in Harford in 2014 [Editorial]

While most of us are focused on getting the holiday season figured out, a few things are happening just after the turn of the new year that bear at least a passing thought, notably the coming state and county elections and the forum where a lot of the posturing for those elections will take place: the 2014 session of the Maryland General Assembly.

The November election that will result in Maryland having a new governor, as Martin O'Malley term-limits out and continues to focus on national office, will have substantial repercussions in Harford County.

David Craig is term-limiting out as county executive, and the county's Republican party machine appears to have anointed Barry Glassman, the state senator representing northern Harford, as the next leader of the county. It's a bit reminiscent of the days when the Democratic party in Harford County held sway over the electorate and contrived safe seats where certain candidates ran with little or no opposition in primaries and then were similarly uncontested or marginally contested in the general election.

Such party arrogance has a good deal to do with why the Democratic party fell from favor in the early 1990s, and the more safe seats Republicans seek to set up, the more likely they are to befall the same fate, though not in 2014.

At the legislative level, that is to say the Harford County Council and the Maryland General Assembly, there are likely to be substantially contested races, at least for the county council. The Democratic party made the mistake four years ago of leaving some council races uncontested. The result was, in the general election, council candidates failed, in aggregate, to attract a threshold percentage of the vote countywide that would have ensured them representation in making political appointments.

The Democratic party, thanks to its own failure to field at least token opposition, was relegated to fringe party status in arenas where it should have been considered a player. It's unlikely to make that same mistake again this election year. Even as the Republicans are likely to continue holding sway over the electorate, the Democrats should be sensible enough to field something approaching a full slate of opposition.

Expect a few sparks, some smoke and maybe even a few small explosions as the holidays come to a close and the election season starts to heat up.

And heat up it will in early January because on the 8th of the month, the Maryland General Assembly opens.

Local senators and delegates have been making the rounds lately, hearing from constituents and talking about what policies they're planning to propose, oppose or influence. Such a session was held last week at Harford Community College and the audience of about 100 consisted of representation from the Harford County Chamber of Commerce, Harford Business Roundtable for Education, Harford Leadership Academy Alumni and Northeastern Maryland Technology Council.

As could be expected, economic development to spark employment growth, the so-called "rain tax" and government finances and taxes were highlights of what local senators and delegates said they would be working on starting Jan. 8 and continuing for the ensuing 90 days.

Don't expect much real action during that span, though.

Just as Democrats are lost balls in tall grass in Harford County, so Republicans hold the same status in the Democratic-majority General Assembly. Minority party status, coupled with a penchant on the part of a few local legislators for political bomb-throwing, give the local contingent little say in years when things get done. The session ahead, falling as it does in an election year, will serve as a stage for incumbents to make themselves heard and advocate for things that are popular with their electoral bases, even as those things end up languishing in committee.

The best we can hope for from Annapolis this year is that a budget is passed before the election. If that happens, increases in fees and taxes aren't likely. If no budget is passed by the session's end in April, expect the groundwork for a special session that ends up being called after the election where tax increases are high on the agenda.

Most of what can be counted on from state and local government in the year ahead is a lot of talk and not much action.

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