AFTER A RAUCOUS but productive orientation session last year, Maryland's General Assembly returns to Annapolis today to cope with less explosive issues and perhaps a less explosive governor as well. This time there won't be a huge bloc of rookie legislators under new leadership in both houses, jockeying for position against a new governor determined to make things happen fast. Gov. William Donald Schaefer and the lawmakers seem to be getting along. Now the relationship to watch is between the often unpredictable Mr. Schaefer and his lieutenant governor, Melvin A. Steinberg, who have not hesitated to air their differences over proposals to restructure higher education.

There's money around for the spending, and if anyone enjoys spending, it's Gov. Schaefer. The focus is likely to be on social issues: day care, locally based care for the mentally ill and improvements in education. The governor also has his eye on continued efforts to cut pollution of the Chesapeake Bay, which -- given the work yet to be done -- should be a top item for many legislative sessions to come.

Though the legislature won't be grappling with big tax changes -- windfall and gas were big ones done last year -- the distribution of revenues is always a live issue for local jurisdictions. The governor's thoughts on this subject are eagerly awaited. Will his natural home-town affection for Baltimore continue to tip formulas that way? Or will his notable lack of affection for that city's new mayor, Kurt L. Schmoke, find the governor more attentive to the costly necessities of life in Montgomery, Prince George's, Anne Arundel and Howard counties, as well as southern Maryland?

How the leaders of these counties and their representatives in Annapolis assist the governor in refining his geographical thinking could make a memorable difference.