- The Washington Times - Friday, May 5, 2006

BALTIMORE — Democrats can’t muster enough support to force a special General Assembly session, despite lawmakers clamoring for another chance to address skyrocketing energy rates, lobbyists and political observers say.

“It ain’t happening,” said William J. Pitcher, a veteran Annapolis lobbyist. “Not a snowball’s chance.”

Mr. Pitcher said Democratic leaders can’t agree how to handle the 72 percent increase in Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.’s residential energy rates or the proposed $11 billion merger of Constellation Energy Group, BGE’s parent company, and Florida utility FPL Group.

Another longtime lobbyist agreed and blamed Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Prince George’s County Democrat, for the legislature’s overall lack of action.

“The problem is Miller. He hasn’t put anything on the table,” said the lobbyist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The lobbyist said House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel County Democrat, and other lawmakers pushing for a special session have not gotten a hint from Mr. Miller about what it would take to get his support.

Mr. Busch and Mr. Miller did not return calls seeking comment.

Lobbyists for several investment firms closely watching Maryland’s utility debate also say a special session is unlikely.

“They are telling me the possibility of a special session was near zero,” said an investment banker with a firm that holds hundreds of millions of dollars worth of Constellation Energy stock.

The banker also questioned Mr. Miller’s role, noting that the Senate president advanced neither energy legislation nor a rate-mitigation plan while the legislature was in session.

“Our lobbyists’ guess as to why he is standoffish is that he knew there was no way not to raise rates,” the banker said. “He’d rather pawn it off on the governor than have his constituents blaming him for it.”

Democrats have led the drive for a special session since Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican seeking re-election, announced last month that he had brokered a deal with BGE to phase in the higher rates, beginning with a 19 percent increase July 1.

The deal, which has been criticized for merely deferring the huge rate increase, was crafted after the Democrat-controlled legislature adjourned without passing an energy plan.

Meanwhile, Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley, a Democrat running for governor, this week filed a lawsuit in Baltimore Circuit Court requesting judicial review of the phase-in plan and an injunction to stop BGE’s advertising campaign about the plan.

A hearing is scheduled Wednesday before Judge Albert Matricciani.

Delegate Curt Anderson, the Baltimore Democrat leading the petition drive, has named the Senate president as an impediment to his efforts. But he said he can get enough lawmakers to sign the petition — 25 senators and 71 delegates — by as early as next week.

Mr. Anderson said 15 state senators and 42 delegates, including one Senate and six House Republicans, have pledged to sign the petition, which would force the governor to reconvene the General Assembly.

A special session has never been forced by petition in state history.

The soaring energy rates have resulted, in part, from a 1999 deregulation deal approved by the legislature and Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat. The deal capped BGE rates below market-level prices for six years while the wholesale cost of electricity rose.

World demand for energy, especially in the emerging economies of India and China, and Hurricane Katrina’s disruption to U.S. energy supply lines drove up electricity prices at the same time BGE’s rate caps expired.

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