- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 25, 2006

BALTIMORE — Democratic lawmakers are seeking support for a petition that would force Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. to call a special legislative session and allow them to reverse the governor’s rate-relief deal with Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. (BGE).

“I think there will be enough hue and cry from the [General Assembly] membership, at least the Democratic membership, to go in and make changes,” said state Sen. Paula Colodny Hollinger, a Baltimore County Democrat involved in the petition drive. “I don’t think the legislators are going to stand for the raw deal Ehrlich made.”

Mrs. Hollinger, who is running for Congress, said the petition drive is in the “embryonic stage” but is being discussed widely among members of the Democrat-controlled General Assembly.

Sen. Norman R. Stone Jr. said he was contacted by Sen. James Brochin, a fellow Baltimore County Democrat, in a daisy chain of calls rounding up supporters for the petition.

“We have to go back,” Mr. Stone said. “The only way we are going to get BGE [and its parent company, Constellation Energy Group,] to do something meaningful is to have some legislation.”

Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican seeking re-election in November, brokered a deal last week with BGE to phase in a 72 percent increase in electricity rates and provide a modest reduction in future energy charges for the utility’s 1.1 million residential customers.

The governor’s deal avoided an election-year special session after the legislature adjourned earlier this month without resolving the rate-increase issue.

Ehrlich spokeswoman Shareese N. DeLeaver said the administration learned that Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Prince George’s County Democrat, was seeking to petition for a special session soon after Mr. Ehrlich announced the BGE deal last week.

Miller spokeswoman Lisa McMurray said the Senate president has not ruled out the petition option. “He is looking at all options,” she said.

The Maryland Constitution provides that a petition signed by the majority of the members of both chambers will compel the governor to convene a special session.

Legislators never before have petitioned for a special session.

The Associated Press reported that Democratic lawmakers do not have a plan that would surpass Mr. Ehrlich’s to reduce the rate increase.

“We’re trying the best we can … to come up with a solution. I don’t know if we can create something better than what’s already out there,” said House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel County Democrat.

Mr. Miller said he would like to hold a special session if legislative leaders can develop a plan on which the Senate and House can agree. “Exactly what that action is remains to be seen at this time,” he said.

One handicap facing lawmakers is that there is no incentive for Constellation to resume negotiations now that the company and Mr. Ehrlich have signed off on a plan.

Company officials have said they have done all they can to reduce the impact on customers, and that the rate increases simply reflect the higher costs BGE has to pay for electricity it provides to customers.

The governor’s deal with BGE still needs approval by the utility-regulating Public Service Commission (PSC), which has scheduled a hearing for tomorrow on the plan.

Last week, the PSC approved the administration’s deal with Potomac Electric Power Co. and Delmarva Power to phase in their large rate increases, beginning with 15 percent increases this summer.

If the BGE plan wins approval, residents can “opt in” to have the 72 percent increase phased in over 18 months. They would begin paying off the deferred charges in monthly installments of about $15, beginning in June 2007 and lasting two years.

The power company will spend $600 million over 10 years to reduce electricity rates, which will save each of BGE’s 1.1 million residential customers about $3 a month on their bills.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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