5 things to watch at the Georgia Legislature

The Georgia Legislature opens for business Monday, kicking off the 2013 legislative session with pomp, ceremony and a gaping hole in the state budget. While lawmakers will spend their 40-day session figuring out how to spend (or not) taxpayers’ money, here are five things to watch as they work:

How will the Medicaid hole be filled? The state's budget for the health care program for the poor and disabled faces a $374 million shortfall for the current fiscal year and a $400 million deficit for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Does any ethics reform pass? Legislators will face pressure this year to make changes to laws governing their own behavior and how they interact with lobbyists, after Republican and Democratic voters last summer overwhelmingly backed an end to unlimited lobbyist gifts to lawmakers in nonbinding referendums.

Do the Falcons get money for their new stadium? The Georgia World Congress Center Authority and the Atlanta Falcons have a preliminary agreement on a retractable roof stadium expected to cost around $1 billion. The team would pay the majority of the costs. The GWCCA has said it would cover $300 million, but it needs the General Assembly to raise its bonding limit to borrow the money.

Can Senate leaders just get along? The Senate's Republican majority appears to have mended its rift with Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, who had been relegated to a more ceremonial role in a chamber over which he traditionally presided. The chamber on Monday will finalize its consensus choice of new leaders — Senate President Pro Tem-elect David Shafer, R-Duluth, and Senate Majority Leader-elect Ronnie Chance, R-Tyrone — but the real test will come later, as major bills move through the Legislature.

Tea party? What tea party? A groundswell of support in 2010 for anti-establishment candidates — tea party groups dubbed offending incumbents RINOs, or Republicans In Name Only — has led, well, mostly nowhere. While polling continues to show 2 in 3 Republican voters agree with the tea party's anti-tax, limited-government message, the movement's legislative accomplishments have been few. Still, tea party efforts have been felt (e.g. last year's failure of a transportation sales tax in metro Atlanta). An Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll released Sunday saw statewide support for the tea party's agenda at only about 36 percent.