Irate Ratepayers and Lawmakers Seek to Replace the PSC and
Perhaps Pepco after 1% Hike of $18M, or $25/Household/Year
One of Progressive Maryland's long-term goals is to re-regulate monopoly "public" utilities after the General Assembly and Congress caved to corporate pressure to deregulate them in 1999. To that end, we fought alongside allies in June and July to oppose Pepco's request for a 4% rate hike - undeserved given the utility's own admission that its service record is among the nation's worst. Thirty state lawmakers also signed a letter to the Public service Commission documenting Pepco's years of cutting regular system maintenance to boost shareholder profits and executive pay. The result was far more massive storm damage and outages that cost hundreds of thousands of ratepayers millions in unreimbursed costs for spoiled food, hotel rooms, lost business and work time. According to its own Pepco Holdings Inc. 2011 report (p. 29), Pepco's CEO Joseph M. Rigby received total compensation over $7 million (or $138,000 per week!), while the next three highest paid executives got over $4 million, $3 million, $2 million, and $1.5 million respectively. That same year Pepco took advantage of corporate loopholes to pay no tax to our state, while doling out record dividends to shareholders of its parent company PHI.
Under so much grassroots pressure, the Public Service Commission denied Pepco $50 million of the $68 million it sought, granting only $18 million, a 1% hike. But angry ratepayers, groups and lawmakers who opposed any increase and insisted Pepco fund its overdue maintenance out of its unearned excessive profits, continue their fight. Several have set up online petitions including one urging Governor O'Malley to replace all PSC members with "real consumer advocates" who are not in Pepco's pockets and will hold down rates, require better service, and hold the utility accountable. Montgomery County Council is even considering setting up its own municipal utility to replace Pepco for its residents.*
Senate Passes Tax Cuts for Middle Class Not Top 2%, but House Vote Aug. 1 Fails; House Dems Intro Bill to Raise Minimum Wage to $9.80
Two of Progressive Maryland's biggest priorities got a congressional boost July 26. Over 100 House Democrats introduced the "Rebuild America Act" to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to a more livable $9.80 per hour over three years. PM was a key promoter of last week's news conference with Baltimore leaders supporting the bill. And the Senate passed the President's plan to extend the Bush tax cuts for middle class households, but not those earning over $250,000 a year (the top 2%). The House version was voted down Aug. 1, putting opponents on record as blocking middle-class tax cuts. Either that bill or the Republican plan to extend the biggest cuts for the wealthiest will likely become the model for how Congress proceeds, depending on who wins the elections. Progressive Maryland led the campaigns for tax fairness, and that raised the state's minimum wage in 2005 and enacted the first statewide Living Wage law in the nation in 2007. We continue to do all we can to help enact both.
Governor Calls Special Session Aug. 9 on Gambling Expansion
The General Assembly reconvenes Aug. 9 in Annapolis to address myriad controversies and developments regarding proposals to expand state gambling operations.
Maryland News & Opportunities In other state news, Baltimore City Hall was the site of two major events last week. First Baltimore City Council members, minimum wage workers, clergy, and grassroots groups announced a plan to move a City Council resolution supporting the "Rebuild America Act" which Democrats hope to bring to a vote in the US House next month (See second top story above). Then PM rallied with CWA and local labor, community and business leaders "For FiOS, Jobs and Against Verizon-Big Cable Greed." The deal with Comcast would kill competition and jobs, jack up prices, and halt FiOS deployment for the city, leaving it permanently on the wrong side of the digital divide.