We don't really know what 2013 will hold, of course, but there are some serious subjects that inevitably will be up for debate in our region. So we join the many new year list-makers and offer a forecast of issues that await local elected leaders and citizens:
1. Taxes. A special election is scheduled March 5 in Atwater on a half-cent increase in the sales tax. Atwater's leaders got their city in serious trouble by failing to deal with mounting financial troubles over the last several years. Voters are being asked to approve the special tax for 10 years.
We fully anticipate there will be more tax proposals, especially if the Democrat-controlled Legislature modifies what kind of voter approval is required to pass tax increases. In Modesto, there's a review under way about how to improve public safety and the possible solutions include a sales tax for police and fire. And Turlock city manager Roy Wasden plans to go to his council with a proposal for a city road tax. Meanwhile, there's early talk among Stanislaus County leaders for a countywide sales tax for roads.
2. Water. This issue gets a standing place on the yearly agenda, despite the fact that the snow survey promises it will be a good year for runoff. Consider: The Merced Irrigation District is still pushing plans to enlarge the storage capacity of Lake McClure. The House of Representative approved legislation last year; now it goes to the Senate. The Modesto Irrigation District has an advisory committee reviewing how to pay for major upgrades to its aging irrigation system; its report is expected next spring. The Oakdale Irrigation District expects to continue talks with San Francisco, which wants to buy water. The Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors likely will consider a proposed ordinance to restrict water exports.
3. High-speed rail. This is the year that construction is supposed to begin on the first valley segment of the project, although it very likely could be slowed by lawsuits or by funding objections in the House. If the rail authority selects the contractor soon, as expected, dirt could be flying by summer.
4. New leadership. Yes, we have elections every year, but 2013 promises to be especially interesting in Merced, where citizens will choose a mayor and three council members. There are key positions to be filled by appointment, too. For instance, California State University, Stanislaus is expected to have a permanent president by mid-year.
5. Health care. Many of the key elements of the Affordable Care Act -- aka Obamacare -- become effective in 2013 and 2014, and they are expected to have a big impact here in the valley, where so many people are uninsured and where there already are too few physicians.