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Donoghue predicts powerful fallout for Allegheny

Annapolis Notes

Annapolis Notes

January 22, 2008|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

Even though Gov. Martin O'Malley released his fiscal year 2009 budget proposal in Annapolis on Wednesday, the center of the legislative universe for several of Washington County's state lawmakers was about 30 miles north.

Five of the county's representatives and three other Western Maryland legislators went to the William Donald Schaefer Tower in Baltimore to watch the Public Service Commission grill Allegheny Power over its controversial light-bulb distribution.

For about 90 minutes, PSC members peppered Allegheny officials with questions. There was some debating and some apologizing.

All eight Western Maryland lawmakers weighed in during a public comment period.

There were more questions and more apologies.

The PSC asked Allegheny to suggest a suitable fix to the problems that had surfaced.

Allegheny's contingent asked for time alone.

Then, after a break, the utility's reps came back and suggested ...

Wait. Back up - to the day before.

On Tuesday, Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, who didn't attend the hearing, told a reporter that the outcome was already decided. Allegheny would reverse the surcharge and credit customers.

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"The PSC will approve it in the morning," he said. "It's a done deal."

Back to Wednesday ...

After the break, Allegheny's senior attorney, Jeffrey P. Trout, proposed to the PSC a series of steps that included - wait for it - reversing the surcharge and crediting customers.

The PSC nodded and agreed.

Was the hearing a facade? A public front? For a predetermined pact?

Not if you ask Del. Kevin Kelly, D-Allegany, who was there and denounced Allegheny as "deceitful and arrogant."

Afterward, he called Donoghue's prehearing prediction/pronouncement "absolutely preposterous."

"This was decided today," he said. "It was directly the result of a very inflamed constituency expressing their dissatisfaction to the Public Service Commission."

Donoghue stuck to his guns Friday.

He said he had talked beforehand to the PSC and Allegheny, and knew which way the wind was blowing.

"I knew all the discussions that were going on, and I certainly expressed my concerns," he said.

What burns their bulbs

Speaking of bulbs, something about them got constituents hotter than they've been in years, Washington County lawmakers said, and it wasn't the wattage.

Local reps say the number of complaint calls about the surcharge kept rising - in the dozens, then more than 50, more than 100, 200, 300.

But the number of calls, e-mails, letters and faxes complaining about the new or higher state income tax, sales tax and cigarette tax approved during the special session?

Just a handful, according to Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr. and Del. Robert A. McKee.

A sales tax that's raised 20 percent might not mean much, but if the General Assembly passes a law increasing bulb wattage by 20 percent, look out.

Not your average bill, part II

Capistrano has its swallows; Annapolis has its bills to create task forces.

So far, the leading contender for Task Force With the Longest Name comes from Sen. Delores G. Kelley, D-Baltimore County:

Task Force to Study System Variables That Impact Student Achievement In Underperforming Public Schools.

The SSVTISAIUPS task force.

Maybe the acronym specialists who came up with USA PATRIOT Act could offer Sen. Kelley some name-picking advice.

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