Swift chides opponents

BOSTON– In her first State of the State address, Gov. Jane M. Swift promised to find opportunity within a recession and the trauma of terrorist attacks by investing in education, public safety and economic growth.

“The challenges we face tonight were unimaginable a year ago,” she said. “But so are the opportunities.”

Speaking at the Statehouse last night, the 36-year-old Republican declared that “fiscal discipline” is the best way to emerge from the downturn and that last year’s tax cut should not be reversed.

“The tax rollback — supported by an overwhelming number of voters — must and will stand,” she told the 700 citizens and government officials assembled in the ornate House chamber for the prime-time televised speech. “It is essential to easing the burdens on struggling families and putting us on the road to recovery.”

While Democrats remained seated, Republicans in the audience stood and clapped as Ms. Swift, appearing animated and confident, sounded the GOP’s anti-tax message. The speech was interrupted several more times by applause.

Ms. Swift, appearing on the Legisla ture’s turf, did not criticize lawmakers until the end of the 23-minute speech, when she chastised them for not funding the Clean Elections Law and finishing the budget five months late.

The address came as the 2002 gubernatorial race is heating up. With three Democratic opponents sitting behind her on the stage, it was a chance for Ms. Swift — who took over last April from former Gov. Paul Cellucci — to define her vision and take credit for accomplishments as she starts her own campaign.

Avoiding one politically charged issue, Ms. Swift did not mention a projected $1.5 billion-plus deficit that looms over the state budget.

Though she listed a number of areas she would spend money on, she included only one specific spending proposal in the speech: an extra $5 million for adult education, framed as part of a broad emphasis on work force training.

She unveiled several new initiatives focusing on boosting the economy, support for anti-terrorism efforts and reforming bilingual education.

The governor announced she is filing legislation to increase tax credits for areas with high unemployment from 5 percent to 15 percent and to make emergency training grants available to laid-off workers.

Central Massachusetts communities that will immediately be eligible for the expanded economic incentive program are Athol, Gardner, Orange, Phillipston and Royalston.

“This incentive program will provide struggling communities with a competitive edge and families living there with hope for new and better jobs,” Ms. Swift said.

In the wake of the Sept. 11 terror strikes, two of which originated at Boston’s Logan International Airport, Ms. Swift noted that the state has added a new class of state troopers and spent liberally on new police equipment.

She said a blue-ribbon commission that recommended changes at the Massachusetts Port Authority will result in Logan being “a national model of safety and security.”

For the future, Ms. Swift said antiterrorism experts will develop a state preparedness strategy this year to be overseen by a new bioterrorism council she is creating.

On education, a key issue in the gubernatorial campaign, she emphasized the significant improvement in statewide testing scores last year and promised to increase education funding in the new state budget she will unveil next week. She also pledged more money for school extra-help programs.

The governor announced she will file a bill to “overhaul” the bilingual education system by “eliminating its current one-size-fits-all approach and replacing it with flexibility and choices for families and schools.”

The proposal was an attempt to head off a well-financed ballot initiative led by California businessman Ron Unz and state Sen. Guy W. Glodis, D-Worcester, that would scrap the current gradual system and replace it with a one-year English “immersion” program.

A similar bill is about to be introduced by Democrats in the Legislature, and Ms. Swift’s proposal put her in the interesting position of being allied with Democrats against the ballot measure.

Mr. Glodis, the most vocal supporter of the ballot question in the Legislature, blasted Ms. Swift’s bilingual plan, calling it politically opportunistic and ineffective. He and other ballot measure leaders vowed to press on with their campaign.

“It does not address the fundamental root issue of moving kids more quickly from Spanish classes to English,” Mr. Glodis said. “It’s simply putting a Band-Aid on a gaping wound.”

State Rep. Antonio F.D. Cabral, D-New Bedford, a key bilingual education supporter and House liberal who is normally opposed to the governor on many issues, said he welcomed Ms. Swift’s approach.

“It’s refreshing. It tells us she’s against the petition question and that a complex issue should not be decided with a simple up or down vote,” he said.

Joining Ms. Swift in the packed chamber were family members, who sat in a gallery. They included her husband, Charles Hunt; her parents, John and Jean Swift; and her brother John M. Swift Jr., whose Boston apartment she often stays in during the week when she does not return home to Williamstown.

Afterward, Republicans were jubilant, saying the governor turned in a strong performance.

“It was a great speech. I think she was on top of her game,” said state Rep. George N. Peterson Jr., R-Grafton, the House minority whip. “She continued to make education the No. 1 priority.”

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