Capital Notebook

CAPITAL NOTEBOOK

February 23, 2006

Joint briefing set on port sale plans

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch announced yesterday that they will hold an emergency briefing tomorrow on the sale of some operations at the port of Baltimore to a United Arab Emirates company. U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski is expected to attend.

The Bush administration-approved deal, which is under increasing national scrutiny, has been widely criticized by Maryland politicians of both parties, including Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

"This is not just a federal issue. It affects tens of thousands of Marylanders who live and work in close proximity to the port," Miller said in a statement. "We don't want to allow for even the remote possibility that this deal would make the port more vulnerable to attack."

Also today, a House Appropriations transportation subcommittee led by Del. Peter Franchot, a Montgomery County Democrat, will hold a hearing on the topic, with Maryland Port Administration Executive Director Brooks Royster scheduled to attend.

Andrew A. Green

Senators seek BGE sale oversight

A bipartisan group of senators is backing a resolution directing the state attorney general to participate in any hearings relating to the sale of Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.'s corporate parent to a Florida utility company.

Sen. Leo E. Green, a Prince George's Democrat who is the lead sponsor of the measure, said he is trying to use every tool he can to slow down the merger and bring it under public scrutiny. He said public interest in the issue is growing amid reports of large profits, executive pay packages and rate increases.

"I want full disclosure," Green said. "What will be the effect on our consumers, and are these profits going to somehow relate to lower rates?"

The resolution has 34 co-sponsors -- more than a majority in the chamber -- including nine Republicans. Shareese N. DeLeaver, a spokeswoman for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., said the governor has expressed concern about rising utility rates but has not taken a position on the sale of Constellation Energy to FPL Group Inc.

Andrew A. Green

Cardin leads Steele in phone poll

Democratic U.S. Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin leads Republican Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele in the race for U.S. Senate, 49 percent to 35 percent, according to an automated telephone survey by Rasmussen Reports conducted Feb. 19 and released yesterday.

A similar telephone poll of 500 likely voters conducted in January showed Steele ahead of Cardin by 5 percentage points. Since then, Steele has lost two top campaign staffers, and his remarks comparing embryonic stem-cell research to experiments done by Nazi doctors made national news.

In the latest poll, Steele is in a statistical dead heat with Democrat Kweisi Mfume, the former congressman and head of the NAACP. In that matchup, Steele took 42 percent to Mfume's 41 percent. The margin of error is 4 1/2 percentage points.

Jennifer Skalka

Bill would raise cigarette tax $1

Anti-smoking activists and legislators are backing a bill that would increase Maryland's cigarette tax by $1 per pack, in an effort to curb smoking and fund an expansion of health care to the state's uninsured.

"We know as a fact that if you increase the cigarette tax by a dollar per pack, thousands of Maryland children will not smoke," said Vincent DeMarco, president of Maryland Health Care for All! Coalition.

Speaking at a meeting of the House Health and Government Operations Committee, DeMarco said revenue from the tax increase would also fund health care for up to 50,000 low-income workers who are currently uninsured.

But representatives of the tobacco industry said saddling smokers with Maryland's health care costs was "inappropriate and unjust."

Capital News Service

Raise unlikely for newly elected

Maryland officials who are elected to new terms in November are not likely to see pay raises for the next four years.

A state Senate committee recommended this week that the salaries for the governor and other statewide elected officials be frozen at current levels, and there was no opposition to the proposal during a brief discussion in the Senate. A final vote is expected this week.

Legislative salaries will remain unchanged because a commission that meets every four years to consider pay for the General Assembly had already recommended a four-year freeze on their salaries. Lawmakers can't vote themselves a pay raise without commission approval.

Associated Press

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