Lame Duck Maybe, But Swift With A Veto Pen

She's been called a lame duck, her name has fallen from the headlines, and barely anyone noticed earlier this month when she disappeared for a weeklong vacation.

But suddenly, acting Gov. Jane Swift, armed with a veto pen and ready to use it, is back on the top of everyone's speed dial as advocates and lobbyists hope to persuade her to spare their favorite programs.

Swift has already pledged to veto "hundreds of millions" from the $22.9 billion budget delivered to her on Friday by the Democratically-controlled Legislature.

House budget chief John Rogers, D-Norwood, has openly welcomed Swift's promised vetoes, saying they will help the state save more of its dwindling reserves for next year.

"There is a general understanding that the governor is going to step up to the plate and wield her veto pen and wield it heavily," Rogers said when he unveiled the Legislature's budget plan.

Although Senate leaders fear Swift will cut too deeply, their hands are tied. Under the Legislature's rules, decisions about which vetoes to override begin in the House.

Swift hasn't announced any vetoes yet. She has 10 days to review the budget before releasing those cuts and Swift said she plans to take the full 10 days.

"We're reviewing everything," Swift said Wednesday. "My obligation is to make that sure we have a budget that is in balance."

Swift is getting plenty of advice, much of it unsolicited, as she readies her vetoes.

On Tuesday, advocates for the homeless gathered outside the Statehouse to urge Swift to resist cutting deeper into funding for shelters and other state programs serving the homeless. The legislature's budget places more than 800 shelter beds at risk, advocates said.

"Whenever a person in public office has the means to remedy the privations of the poorest, there is a moral call to do so," said Mary Ellen Hombs, executive director of the Massachusetts House and Shelter Alliance. "This budget turns away from this moral responsibility."

Barbara Dortch-Okara, chief administrative justice for the state's trial courts, is also urging Swift to resist additional vetoes, saying deeper cuts would "effectively paralyze" the court system and require more layoffs.

In a twist, a state organization of pharmacists is asking Swift to use her veto pen to kill a provision in the budget to reduce pharmacists' Medicaid reimbursements and impose a new tax on non-Medicaid prescriptions.

Swift said she's not surprised by the free advice, given the "implications and the enormity" of the state's budget woes.

"I always found that I got a lot of advice," she said. "Obviously when the decisions that you are making are of a greater magnitude you hear from additional people. But it's not unexpected."

Swift also criticized Rogers for suggesting that even more tax hikes may be needed to balance next year's budget. On Tuesday, the House voted to override Swift's veto of a $1.1 billion tax package.