David Nitkin on state politics issues

BGE ratesBryan, Newark, Del.: Are the members of the state Senate and House worried aboutbeing voted out of office in November if they voted for deregulation? In Delaware,there is a strong effort to vote out anyone who voted for deregulation andDelmarva power is only raising prices by 59 percent. Also, is Senate President[Thomas V.] Mike Miller now regretting that he pushed so hard for energy deregulationand his prediction that "competition will drive prices down..."?

Nitkin: Lawmakers are certainly fearful of the implications ofelectric rate increases for the fall election, when all 188 seats in theGeneral Assembly are up. I know of no organized "throw the bums out"campaign. I also have not heard Miller express remorse about the deregulation bill he helped pass in 1999.

Jef Jefferson, Millersville: There is talk that Constellation Energy will allow thestate to be party to merger plans with Florida Power. Just how much controlwill the state have?

Nitkin: Lawmakers in the House of Delegates on Monday passed a billthat would give them veto power over the merger between Constellation Energy Group and FPL Group of Florida. The legislation would create aspecial counsel who would examine the merger and report to the Assembly on whether it is good for state consumers. Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has saidhe supports the merger, and [Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.] officials say they would not provide a phase-in plan for rate increases if the Assembly intervenes in the merger.

Chris, Baltimore: I'm not sure I see what is newsworthy about the fact that alobbyist is communicating to a state agency head. Isn't it the business oflobbyists to communicate to legislators and agency heads? And from readingthe e-mail between the lobbyist and the head of the [Public Service Commission], I can't see that it represented any more than a chat between two people who are obviouslyfriends; no policy matters were discussed. Please advise why this is newsat all, much less grounds to call for the resignation of the PSC head.

Nitkin: Policy matters were discussed in the e-mail exchange betweenPSC head Kenneth D. Schisler and utilities lobbyistCarville B. Collins. They discussed the name of the next Ehrlich appointeeto the five-member commission, information any lobbyist would love to have.Schisler also discussed with Collins how to develop a strategy to handleMiller to prevent the legislator from playing "political football" with impending rate increases. These are some of the most important policy matters before the commission. You are rightthat it is a lobbyist's job to try to gain access and have his clients'voices heard in government. That doesn't mean the regulator or governmentofficial has to respond or go along.

Stuart, Baltimore: It is obvious that you do not like the governor. However,don't you think that it would be fair if you mentioned that in 1999, theDemocratic legislature and Gov. [Parris N.] Glendening created and signed the law inquestion. They agreed with BGE that the rates would be frozen for sixyears. After that, BGE could do whatever they needed to do. To blame thecurrent governor for a deal that he was not involved in is ironic.

Nitkin: Almost every article we write about deregulation and theimpending electricity rate increase has mentioned that it passed in 1999and was supported by a clear majority of Democrats in the House and Senate.Every Republican in the General Assembly also voted for the bill in 1999. Idon't think people are blaming the governor for the deregulation bill, butthey are looking to him now for leadership and solutions in the face of a72 percent rate increase.

SteeleDavid Keelan, Ellicott City: Regarding The Sun article "Donations to Steelescrutinized," the article states that Lt. Gov. [Michael S.] Steele collected thousands of dollars in contributions from nonprofits who were recipients of state grants prior to his announcement that he would run for U.S. Senate (but also while he was publicly considering a run in 2010 forgovernor).The article references "nods and winks." It also says he was the"sole decision-maker as to how these moneys were to be allocated."

The article's first paragraph says "...organizations selected by his [Steele's]office ..." but seven paragraphs later, the article states Steele's office was"asked ... to recommend African-American organizations to receive theproceeds." Was he or was he not the "sole-decision maker?" The article isn'tclear.

The article also omits that Mike Little's Oxon Hill companycontributed to the Steele campaign in 2003. The rest of the articlebasically comes down to the issue of appearances. Would you recommend thatThe Sun write an article about [U.S. Rep. Benjamin L.] Cardin and hiscampaign fundraising as a member of the very influential Ways and MeansCommittee, ranking member of the trade subcommittee and a member of theHuman Resources subcommittee? A review of Politicalmoneyline.com andCongressman Cardin campaign funding sources raises a lot of the samequestions as this article does about Steele.

Nitkin: Steele, by all appearances, was the soledecision-maker for the disbursement of settlement money from Monumental.The state insurance commissioner asked Steele's office for recommendations.Steele, through an aide, recommended four groups. All four received themoney. The insurance commissioner's office says no one else was asked forinput. The letters announcing the funding said the grants were being madeon behalf of the lieutenant governor. That's a pretty clear chain ofevents.

When questions about the fundraising of Cardinhave come up, such as the amount of money he has received from politicalaction committees, we have reported on that.

IssuesKurt Gladsky, Towson: Why do Maryland legislators resist enacting laws to protectMaryland children from sexual predators?

Nitkin: Legislation to toughen the penalties and reportingrequirements for sexual predators is poised to pass the General Assemblythis year. Several lawmakers who are defense attorneys are members of thejudicial committees in the House and the Senate, which consider suchlegislation. Those committees have historically been cautious in passinglegislation that calls for tougher sentences for some crimes.

Charlie, Pasadena: My question is, who are the legislators against slotsand a list of who are for it? Then, we could vote the ones out who areagainst, including Miller.

Nitkin: The answer to your question is not as simple as it wouldseem. The Maryland Senate passed a slots plan for three consecutive years(2003, 2004, 2005). In the first two of those years, the bill died in aHouse of Delegates committee. A year ago, House Speaker Michael E. Buschcobbled together the barest of majorities for a different version of aslots plan -- one that Republicans voted against. But those sameRepublicans probably would have voted for Ehrlich'sslots bill. There has not been one single slots plan that has been voted onin both the House and the Senate, so the tally you are looking for is notreally possible.

You refer to Miller, and I assume you mean Senate President Miller, who is a slots supporter. The presiding officer who has playedthe largest role in blocking slots is Busch, the House speaker.

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