- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 6, 2006

ANNAPOLIS — Democratic legislative leaders yesterday vowed to dismantle the state’s utility-regulating agency during a special session next week on Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.’s (BGE) impending rate increase.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Prince George’s County Democrat, and House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel County Democrat, also promised to cut BGE’s 72 percent rate increase to as little as 15 percent, but offered no details on how they would achieve the reduction.

A 72 percent increase would cost each of BGE’s 1.1 million residential customers an average of $700 more a year.

Under deregulation measures that the Democrat-controlled legislature enacted in 1999, BGE’s prices were capped below market levels. Those rate caps are due to expire at the end of the month.

“We think it is the appropriate time to move forward and do something before the July 1 rates come to fruition,” Mr. Busch said. “It is our hope that we can all come to some kind of consensus to do what is in the best interests of the people of Maryland.”

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican seeking re-election, announced Monday that he intends to convene a special session on the rate increase.

Mr. Ehrlich said yesterday that he would oppose the Democrats’ move to take over the governor-appointed Public Service Commission (PSC), which regulates the state’s utilities.

“Just simply coming in and pretending the Public Service Commission is the problem … is not a solution and we will not participate in that,” Mr. Ehrlich told reporters at a dedication ceremony at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. “If they want to come in and pass the deal that died in the Senate, we can talk.”

Mr. Ehrlich declined to say whether he would veto a bill aimed at the PSC.

Republican lawmakers and administration officials noted that the PSC does not regulate electricity prices, although the commission oversees the wholesale auction of electricity that establishes the market price.

“It’s a lot of posturing going on,” said Senate Minority Leader J. Lowell Stoltzfus, Eastern Shore Republican.

The governor said a special session is necessary after a Baltimore Circuit Court ruling last week that voided Mr. Ehrlich’s plan to phase in the rate increase and forced the PSC to adopt an outdated rate-stabilization plan.

Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley, a Democrat running for governor, filed the lawsuit that led to the court ruling.

Mr. Miller said he is not looking for a confrontation with the governor.

“We always want to work with the governor the best we possibly can,” he said after a meeting of the Legislative Policy Committee, which consists of both chambers’ leaders and sets the legislature’s agenda.

Mr. Miller said lawmakers would return to Annapolis for bill hearings as early as Tuesday, followed by a legislative session Wednesday and possibly Thursday.

Mr. Busch and Mr. Miller echoed the governor’s call to revive the energy plan that died in the Senate on the last day of the 90-day legislative session.

The plan would phase in the 72 percent rate increase, beginning with a 15 percent increase July 1. It includes a pledge by Constellation Energy Group, BGE’s parent company, to reduce rates by $600 million over 10 years, cutting about $3 off the average monthly bill.

However, Mr. Busch and Mr. Miller stressed that their aim is to take over the PSC.

Mr. Miller called the commission the “Public Disservice Commission” and said its approval of higher prices was an act of “malfeasance.”

“They sided with utilities on every issue,” he said.

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