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Maryland's top Dems seek unlimited power

July 11, 2006

The current court battle over Maryland's Public Service Commission is, first and foremost, a political fight.

The Democratic leadership of the Maryland General Assembly is trying to force out all of the PSC members appointed by Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich.

But there is another issue here and it's one that goes beyond the current flap over electric power rates.

In the United States, there are three branches of government - the legislative, the executive and the judiciary. The branches are separate so that they can act as a check on one of the others obtaining unlimited power.

In this case, the lawmakers are seeking to remove officials appointed by the governor, despite his objections.

On Saturday The (Baltimore) Sun reported on a Friday hearing before the Maryland Court of Appeals.

During that hearing, The Sun reported, legislative leaders' counsel argued that because legislators voted to create the PSC, they could dissolve it.

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The General Assembly's attorney also argued that because the state constitution does not specifically prohibit the legislature from removing the governor's appointees, it could legally do so.

Judge Alan M. Wilner then asked Assistant Attorney General Michael D. Berman, who represented the General Assembly, if the legislature could even remove judges from the court, because it had passed the legislation that set it up.

"Unpalpable as that may be, the legislature may do that," Berman said.

Scary stuff, indeed. Imagine what would happen if a bill passed by a future General Assembly were found unconstitutional by Maryland's highest courts. Would lawmakers then consider removing the judges whose ruling had displeased them?

Don't say it couldn't happen. An assistant attorney general has argued that it could and on Friday his office issued an opinion backing that view.

This is what's really going on: In an attempt to confuse voters about who is really responsible for their rising electric rates, Democratic leaders are attacking the governor.

But Ehrlich wasn't in office in 1999 when the legislature passed a law to deregulate electricity. Part of that deal was that power suppliers would agree to freeze rates for a number of years before going to market prices.

This year, to the apparent surprise of the 1999 bill's architects, the caps were due to come off for customers of Baltimore Gas & Electric Co., which announced a 72 percent rate hike.

Instead of acknowledging their error and seeking a bipartisan solution to the mess they created, legislative leaders are complaining that the PSC should have done the job for them.

To win, they are willing to eliminate the checks and balances that have served Maryland well for many years. The Court of Appeals should not let them get away with it.

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