BGE rates
Paul, Baltimore: Do you think the increase in fuel cost has anything to do with the requested rate hike? The cost of gasoline went from a national average of $0.94 [a gallon] in 1999 to $2.55 currently. Could that be the reason for the rate increase?

Nitkin: This is according to Paul Adams, our lead reporter on [Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.] issues:

The rising cost of fuel burned to make electricity has everything to do with the rate increase. Even without deregulation, BGE's rates would have to go up -- it's just a question of how much. Remember, BGE is not making a windfall off of this increase. In fact, after July 1, the company will make a tiny 0.9 percent profit off of the cost of the electricity that is delivered to customers. After taxes, that amounts to about $12 million of the company's $170 million annual profit.

The company makes the vast majority of its profit from the fee it charges to deliver electricity over its power lines and to your house. That rate is the same as it has been since 1993 and is not going up after July 1, when the rate caps come off.

Dave, Bel Air: David, I enjoy reading your column. [I] don't agree with your politics (now come on, you are a Democrat) but respect your views and opinions. Try to give the governor a break on the BGE crisis. The Democrats created the problem, not the governor and [the Public Service Commission] chairman. Seems like legislature members are causing the problems with resolving the interest with BGE and Constellation.

Nitkin: No one is accusing Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. or Public Service Commission Chairman Kenneth D. Schisler of creating the problem of rate hikes. And you are certainly correct that the deregulation legislation that led to the current situation was passed by a legislature controlled by Democrats and signed by Democratic Gov. Parris N. Glendening. But critics of the current governor's response say not enough has been done for consumers to mitigate the price increase.

BGE and Constellation are well-represented in Annapolis with many high-paid lobbyists. And the governor's comments that he wants the PSC and other agencies to take a more business-friendly approach to operations has, rightly or wrongly, raised the suspicion of some consumer advocates.

Mya, Turner's Station: I feel as though this 72 percent BGE hike is just wrong. Isn't the minimum wage in Maryland too low for the cost of living? I'm sure a lot of people who are considered middle class will be struggling to pay their bills after this hike.

Nitkin: Maryland's minimum wage is now $6.15 an hour. One group, Progressive Maryland, calculates that a "living wage" -- which would be the hourly wage needed to provide food, housing, utilities and other necessities for a family -- would be slightly more than $11 an hour.

Part of the reason that many politicians are scrambling to find a solution to the 72 percent BGE rate hike is that they know that many of their constituents will have a hard time paying the bills.

Larry Smith, Baltimore: If the legislature can appoint members to the PSC, where is the separation of powers?

Nitkin: The Public Service Commission is currently an independent agency within the executive branch of government.

The General Assembly has drafted a plan that would fire the five current members of the commission and replace them with two members appointed by the Senate, two by the House of Delegates and one appointed by the governor -- certainly a shift from executive control to legislative control. Some might call it a power grab.

The issues of separation of powers is getting a lot of attention in Annapolis. This is what Tom Dennison of the Gazette reported last week:

"Joseph M. Getty, a policy adviser to Ehrlich, gave The Gazette a packet of information on Wednesday showing how Democrats have eroded long-standing powers of the state's chief executive during the past four legislative sessions.

"Getty developed a spreadsheet titled 'Legislation That Limits Gubernatorial Power' that listed more than 30 bills.

"'The General Assembly has approached this term as a four-year process of hostility to the executive,' said Getty, a former delegate from Carroll County. 'The General Assembly has been absolutely unable to make the transition to shared power with the Republican executive.'"

[A retired BGE employee], Baltimore: BGE knew the rate caps were coming off and they would have to buy on the open market long before this year. Why didn't they, in good consciousness, approach the PSC and advise them of the impending projected costs? BGE has made a profit every year since deregulation in 1999.