- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 23, 2006

BALTIMORE — The deal to limit huge increases in Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. bills could have provided more relief to customers had state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. not let his political agenda interfere with the original agreement, Republican lawmakers say.

“He spent too much time playing political games while the whole [deal] went down the tubes,” said Senate Minority Leader J. Lowell Stoltzfus, Eastern Shore Republican.

Mr. Stoltzfus said Mr. Miller, a Prince George’s County Democrat, focused on ousting members of the utility-regulating Maryland Public Service Commission appointed by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, instead of closing the deal in the legislature that would have stalled BGE’s planned 72 percent rate increase.

“His whole interest was in blowing up” the commission, Mr. Stoltzfus said. “That was pure politics.”

That deal, which died in the Senate on the last day of the legislative session, would have held BGE’s rate increases to 15 percent starting July 1 and prevented any power company from increasing rates by more than 20 percent a year. The 72 percent increase would have brought prices to market levels.

Mr. Ehrlich forged a new deal with BGE last week that kept the rate increase to 19 percent and salvaged the power company’s commitment to give back $600 million to consumers over 10 years.

The commission must approve the plan.

On Friday, the commission approved the administration’s deal with Potomac Electric Power Co. and Delmarva Power to phase in their large rate increases, beginning with a 15 percent increase this summer.

“Mike Miller could not deliver,” said House Minority Whip Anthony J. O’Donnell, Southern Maryland Republican. “He is at the epicenter of a failure of the legislature to act. … He bears full responsibility.”

Mr. Miller turned down a request for an interview.

“We are not going to entertain stories of intrigue and finger-pointing,” Miller spokeswoman Lisa McMurray said.

Senate Democrats defended Mr. Miller, saying he was not a deal breaker.

“The whole Senate is responsible,” said Sen. Leonard H. Teitelbaum, Montgomery County Democrat.

Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer, a Democrat from Baltimore and Howard counties, said he took Mr. Miller “at his word” that there just wasn’t enough support for the deal in the chamber.

“I think it was … just a Senate body that didn’t feel it was prepared in terms of understanding what they were voting on,” he said.

The failed deal also would have removed the five commission members — four of whom Mr. Ehrlich appointed. It also would have authorized Mr. Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel County Democrat, to help the governor pick new members.

Mr. Miller repeatedly voiced dissatisfaction with the deal, particularly because the power to appoint members was not transferred from the governor to him and Mr. Busch.

Mr. Miller’s distaste for the commission predates its March 7 announcement of pending utility rate increases.

He objected in 2003 when Mr. Ehrlich ousted Chairman Catherine I. Riley, a former Democratic senator and longtime friend of Mr. Miller’s, and member J. Joseph Curran III, the son of Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., a veteran of state Democratic politics.

The commission also figured prominently in the probe by the Special Committee on State Employee Rights and Protections, which Mr. Miller helped organize to investigate accusations that the Ehrlich administration purged Democrats from the state work force. After eight months, the investigation has not found evidence of wrongdoing.

The increase in electricity prices is the result, in part, of the 1999 deregulation plan that Mr. Miller shepherded through the legislature and Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat, signed into law. It capped utility rates for up to six years while market prices increased.

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