- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 17, 2006

Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley mailed voters a new brochure this week for his gubernatorial campaign in which he takes credit for stopping Baltimore Gas and Electric’s 72 percent rate increase for its 1.1 million customers.

“When others were ready to turn out the lights, one man took our side and fought back against a 72 percent utility rate hike,” the brochure states. “Martin O’Malley fought back against BGE and stopped the rate increase.”

The statement is consistent with attempts by Mr. O’Malley, the Democratic candidate for Maryland governor, to portray himself as a populist and Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. as a Republican out of touch with the working class. It has also drawn criticism from some state legislators.

“He made it worse,” Delegate Jill P. Carter, a Baltimore City Democrat, said yesterday. “The action taken by his city solicitor general destroyed the governor’s incremental increase. … He may have been well-intentioned, but the result was actually to the detriment of the public.”

Sen. Andrew P. Harris, Baltimore County Republican and minority whip, called Mr. O’Malley’s claims “ludicrous.”

“I guess he’s Superman,” Mr. Harris said. “I guess he leaps buildings in a single bound as well. When you have to run on the record he has, with Baltimore City, I think you’d be making a stretch like that, too.”

An Ehrlich spokeswoman called Mr. O’Malley’s claims “absurd.”

James Gimpel, a political science professor at the University of Maryland at College Park, pointed out that Mr. O’Malley filed the court case but said he’s claiming “far more credit than is due.”

“On the other hand we shouldn’t be surprised,” he said. “This is campaign season.”

O’Malley supporters in the General Assembly are standing behind the claim.

“When he filed the lawsuit, for the first time, we got the full information on the bidding process and executive pay plans,” said Sen. Leo E. Green, a Prince George’s Democrat who retired this year after 23 years in the state Senate.

Mr. Green, one of several lawmakers involved in close negotiations to avert a customer crisis, said prior to Mr. O’Malley’s lawsuit BGE executives were poised for a huge payout from a merger with the Florida Power and Light Co.

“They were all taking their parachutes and leaving us,” he said.

Hari Sevugan, an O’Malley spokesman, said that the mayor’s taking the case to court directly “blocked the implementation” of the proposed, double-digit rate increase.

A Baltimore City Circuit Court judge in late May ruled in favor of Mr. O’Malley’s lawsuit, which halted a deal struck by Mr. Ehrlich after the legislature failed to solve the problem during its 90-day legislative session.

The legislature previously had lost a deal that would have required BGE to pay $600 million over 10 years to reduce costs to customers, after Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Prince George’s Democrat, let the deal die on the last night of the session. Mr. Miller did not return phone calls.

The rate increase was in part the result of a 1999 deregulation deal under Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat, that capped electricity rates below market levels for six years.

Mr. Ehrlich’s deal would have increased rates by 19 percent in July, and would have gradually increased rates to 72 percent with two more increases over 18 months.

The legislature’s deal, reached in a special session called by Mr. Ehrlich after Mr. O’Malley’s lawsuit, increased rates by 15 percent and set rates to return to market levels in one year.

The Ehrlich campaign has slammed the legislature’s plan because it is mandatory and locks ratepayers into a 10-year deferred payment plan. The governor’s deal was optional for ratepayers, who would have had the option to pay 72 percent more right away.

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