As we start a new year, let’s look ahead to some of the local and national issues that will be making headlines in 2014.
On the national front, the recently approved budget deal puts questions of the national debt and spending aside until 2015. But 2014 will see the continuing rollout of the Affordable Care Act, better known as “Obamacare.”
Problems associated with signing up for health coverages through the exchanges likely will fade as website glitches are ironed out. But it is likely that more problems stemming from the law itself will manifest as the year goes on. Will young, healthy people sign up for coverage in the numbers required to offset the cost of insuring older, sicker Americans? In 2015, the delayed employer mandate will kick in. As 2014 draws to a close, we may see many Americans receiving notice that they will lose their employer-provided insurance as some businesses find the cost of paying the fines is less than that to pay for Obamacare-compliant coverage.
A major question to be answered in 2014 is whether Americans’ anger over Obamacare and governmental mismanagement in general will result in a shift in power in Congress at the mid-term elections. In November, all seats in the House of Representatives and one-third of Senate seats are in play. Will the Republicans extend their control of the House and win the Senate? Or will Democrats reverse the trend and recapture the House? Stay tuned.
In Massachusetts and particularly in New Hampshire, this national battle will play out in the race for two Senate seats -- those currently held by Democrats Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire and Ed Markey in Massachusetts.
Shaheen, first elected in 2008, already faces Republican challenges in former state Sen. Jim Rubens of Hanover and conservative activist Karen Testerman of Franklin. Also said to be considering runs on the Republican side are former Congressman Charles Bass, former Sen. Bob Smith and former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown.
Markey, who took office in June to finish the term of former Sen. John Kerry, will run for re-election in 2014. Potential Republican challengers include former Sen. Brown and former Gov. William Weld.
There will be races for governor in both Massachusetts and New Hampshire as well. In New Hampshire, Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan will seek a second term.
In Massachusetts, two-term Gov. Deval Patrick has said he will not run for a third-term. The open seat already has drawn challenges from Democrats businessman Joseph Avellone, health care administrator Donald Berwick, state Attorney General Martha Coakley, state Treasurer Steven Grossman, Kennedy School lecturer Juliette Kayyem and Republican Charles Baker.
Locally, Lawrence inaugurates new Mayor Daniel Rivera. In his first term, Rivera will oversee the hiring of a new permanent police chief and a new fire chief. Former police Chief John Romero retired in September and fire Chief Jack Bergeron retires tomorrow. Rivera will need to assure that well-qualified, professional leaders are hired for these important public safety posts.
Rivera will also need to deliver on campaign promises to fight crime in the city and market Lawrence as a site for business development.
These are tough tasks as he must also manage a struggling city under the watch of a state-appointed fiscal overseer and whose schools are in the hands of a state receiver.
Incumbent mayors Stephen Zanni and James Fiorentini will return to office in Methuen and Haverhill, respectively. Both mayors must carefully manage budgets with taxpayers in no mood for further tax increases.
In Southern New Hampshire, local communities, particularly Salem, will wait to see what the state Legislature does on casino gambling. Salem’s Rockingham Park is a prime candidate for a casino should the Legislature finally act on the issue.