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Md. energy bill veto override delayed as Republicans look for votes

(File photo)

(File photo)

ANNAPOLIS — A planned vote to override the veto of a bill Gov. Larry Hogan calls “a sunshine tax” was delayed Thursday as Republicans held out hopes of finding enough Democrats to switch sides.

The delay, which pushes the vote back a week, came a day after staff for Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. assured reporters that the Senate would seek to override the veto of Senate Bill 921, which increases the renewable energy standard in the state.

Sen. Stephen Hershey (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

Sen. Stephen Hershey (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

“We had been working all along under the premise that the House was going to work on the (veto override) first,” said Sen. Stephen S. Hershey Jr., Upper Eastern Shore and Senate Minority whip. “We asked the Senate president just before the motion was made if we could continue with what we thought was going to happen and do it next week. He allowed us to do that. He kept his word.”

Hershey held out hope it would change the outcome.

“Who knows?” Hershey said. “We’re going to have a debate and we’re going to let our colleagues know that $127 million is an awful lot of money and make sure they recognize what they are voting on.”

But as Hershey was speaking with reporters, Miller stepped in and shot down the notion of Democrats flipping on the veto override.

“Every Democrat here on the floor is going to vote for the veto override,” Miller said. “We’ve got all our votes, 100 percent. We did it (the delay) as a courtesy to (Hershey).”

Hershey said Republicans believe they can stop the override by educating Democrats on the costs of the bill.

“It is a tax,” Hershey said and added that Republicans may be lobbying Democrats to change their vote, selling it as a tax on ratepayers.

“We are talking with our colleagues, and we are letting them know that we believe and the governor believes this is a tax,” Hershey said.

The bill in the Senate passed 31-14 along strict party lines with all Republicans voting against. The House version of the same bill passed the Senate 32-14.

Democrats need 29 votes in the Senate to override the veto.

The House last year approved the bill by an 87-51 vote with three Democratic delegates not voting. Democrats need 85 votes to override.

“The vote was pretty close,” said Hershey.

The House this week delayed its vote on House Bill 1010 — its version of the legislation — until Tuesday.

Currently, there are three vacancies in the House, all Democrats. At the beginning of the 2017 session, House Speaker Michael E. Busch said he would likely delay taking up a veto override until the vacancies were filled.

Under the increased standard in the bill, electricity suppliers would comply by purchasing a percentage of renewable energy credits proportional to its share of Maryland’s total electricity sales.

Each credit is equal to one megawatt-hour of generated renewable energy.

Hogan and Hershey, referring to a recent Public Service Commission report, said the program would cost electricity ratepayers at least $127 million annually as suppliers purchase credits on the open market.

“This is not something spread out over years,” Hershey said. “In fact, the cost of complying with Maryland’s (renewable energy) program has increased exponentially. It’s going to continue to happen if we move forward with these goals because there’s limited supply (of credits) in what is out there on the renewable energy market.”

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