Electricity rates
William Lewis, Catonsville: Is anyone there aware of any lawsuits on behalf of people who are not satisfied about having the opt out choice taken away from them?

Nitkin: Some consumers are concerned about not being able to opt out of the rate deferral plan approved by the General Assembly, which will include a 10-year repayment program at a cost of just more than $2 per month, depending on electricity usage, on average. But there have been no lawsuits that I know of, and state and utility officials say that by requiring all customers to participate, Constellation Energy and Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. will have a steadier source of revenue that puts it in a better financial position to borrow money that will pay for the rate deferral.

Mik Megary, Ocean Pines: Why hasn't The Sun been more critical of the Democrats with regards to the BGE rate situation? Wasn't it [former] Gov. [Parris N.] Glendening and the Democrats who prohibited BGE to increase rates as their costs increased? Wasn't this mess we are in easily foreseeable from any logical person's perspective?

Nitkin: The risks and downsides to deregulation have been foreseeable for several years, as various states that passed deregulation plans have not seen savings to consumers. The history of Enron and California also carried warnings. As the rates crisis here has unfolded, The Sun has repeatedly reported that the 1999 bill was passed by a Democrat-controlled Assembly (with the votes of every Republican member) and signed by Glendening.

Addressing part of this point, I am also including here a recent e-mail that I received from Michael Powell, an attorney with Gordon Feinblatt Rothman Hoffberger & Hollander who is a former chief counsel to the Maryland Department of the Environment.

"David, I think your answer to the question about the rate caps is accidentally misleading. (I know as I was one of the negotiators of the original bill.) A four year freeze and a rate cap were part of the original legislation and were inserted at the request of Governor Glendening to avoid a veto. It is true that the exact level of the rate cap was left open by putting a range into the stature but a four year period was specified. Subsequently, a settlement that included all of the parties but was primarily reached between the then People's Counsel and BGE extended the legislative rate caps from four years to six years and set the level of the cap at the lower end of the range.

It was presented to the PSC [Public Service Commission] as a "black box" settlement under which no specific item, including the length or level of the rate cap, could be re-examined by the PSC. To say that the PSC instead of the legislature set the length and the level is a bit misleading. A more accurate statement would be that the legislature required a rate cap that was subsequently extended under the same agreement between the People's Counsel and the Utilities that set the amount of stranded costs."

Dave, Bel Air: I'm confused. The General Assembly fired the existing PSC members due to the 72 percent rate hike proposal, saying they didn't do enough to prevent it. Yet, in your comment to D. Gruver, it seems you are saying nothing could be done, in fact it will eventually cost customers more. If this is true, and our rates will eventually exceed 72 percent, what was the purpose of the special session and firing the PSC members? What does the General Assembly expect the new members to do, threaten Constellation, and BGE and force them to keep rates lower?

Nitkin: The new law changes the way deregulated utility companies purchase electricity, and allows them to enter into multiple contracts of different timeframes, to take advantage of market conditions. The law also requires a new PSC to examine the proposed merger between Constellation and FPL Group Inc. and determine if the merger provides benefits to consumers. Both of these components of the law could lead to lower rates, but there is no guarantee.

A baltimoresun.com reader from Baltimore: [Mayor Martin] O'Malley is a joke! As a candidate, is there any one issue he has stood for as mayor that provides a reason to get votes in your opinion?

Nitkin: This is the type of question that is best posed to the candidates themselves. I'd suggest you go to the Web sites of the candidates for governor (www.martinomalley.com and www.bobehrlich.com) and see what issues and positions you agree with and disagree with.

Joe, Baltimore: Dave, unfortunately I live in Baltimore City. I have seen nothing good come from the O'Malley administration. City services are below levels seen in the surrounding counties, [and] the school system is probably the worst in the country. What does the cry baby mayor have to offer the state?

All the promises he made to become mayor have not been met. Murders are higher, [and] taxes and fees are higher. Why doesn't The Sun do a comparison of O'Malley's progress in Baltimore during his tenure? I believe if you did, you would find the city is in such a disarray. Also, remember his one staff member [who] made very derogatory remarks about homosexuals and, years later, O'Malley promoted him? He would not make a good governor and I don't see why The Sun paper is afraid to point out all his shortcomings.

Nitkin: There are more than four months before the general election. The Sun will be writing extensively (and has already written much) about the mayor's record in office.

Thomas Menter, Williamsport: All this talk about what [Gov. Robert L.] Ehrlich [Jr.] has done, what about the sad state of affairs the juvenile justice system is in? Nothing has improved there -- if anything, it's worse.

Nitkin: The governor made juvenile justice a major campaign issue four years ago, especially in light of Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend's oversight of that area. Many critics believe little progress has been made, while Ehrlich administration officials say they are making gains -- and point to the closing of the Hickey School as a particular achievement. It's unclear whether the governor will continue to talk about juvenile justice on the campaign trail this year, or whether O'Malley will make an issue of it.

Fred Burke, Baltimore: I can't believe The Sun is attacking a candidate based on her religion. A new low!