In addition to the two bills moving forward in the House and Senate, Busch said he expected the legislature to demand some recouping of $528 million customers paid Constellation over the last several years to compensate the company for an expected decline in the value of its Maryland power plants. Rather than declining, their value has increased significantly in recent years.
"Both houses are talking about solutions to the problem," Busch said. "Up until now, there's been no dialogue about the problem other than a long-term financing plan."
A bill requiring Constellation to return the $528 million is pending in the Senate Finance Committee. Sen. Thomas M. Middleton, a Charles County Democrat and the committee's chairman, said he was waiting for an opinion from the attorney general regarding the bill's constitutionality.
Until yesterday, efforts in the legislature to address the rates and merger had been generally bipartisan. But Republican allies of the governor stood on the floor of the Senate yesterday to object to the PSC reconstitution bill, saying it was nothing but a petty slap at his appointees.
"This is probably the most mean-spirited bill I've seen since being in the legislature," said Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus, the minority leader from the Eastern Shore. "It's opportunistic piling on, blaming the PSC for the electricity rate increase. The real story is, this bill is not really about the rates but it's about criticism toward this administration for replacing PSC members."
The commission - four of whose five members were appointed by Ehrlich - has come under intense fire for not acting aggressively enough to protect the public from the rate increases. Prominent lawmakers have called for commission Chairman Kenneth D. Schisler's resignation, particularly since a series of e-mails were uncovered earlier this month showing what some called a too-cozy relationship between him and industry lobbyists and officials.
Schisler issued a statement yesterday opposing the bill, which would effectively oust him from his $117,000-a-year job.
"This legislation does nothing to address the upcoming looming rate increase facing consumers," Schisler said in the statement.
But Democratic senators said the public doesn't trust the commission.
"It wasn't put in there to be mean-spirited," said Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, the Baltimore County Democrat who sponsored the bill. "It was put in there so the people have confidence in those who are supposed to be out there protecting their interest."
Middleton said one name that has been talked about as a potential new member of the commission is Michael J. Travieso, the longtime People's Counsel who was ousted by Ehrlich shortly after the governor took office in 2003.
The Senate's preliminary vote on the bill and on several amendments offered by Republicans fell largely on party lines, with Sen. E.J. Pipkin, an Eastern Shore Republican, the only member of his party to side with the Democrats. He said the current commissioners have only espoused deregulation and market competition, which haven't worked in Maryland.
"We want people in the room we're comfortable with who will be aggressive on behalf of the consumers," Pipkin said. "This vote is not about politics, in my opinion. This is policy over politics."