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Downing eyes tax changes to fund universal early care

Ben DowningSuzanne Kreiter/Globe staff

Ben Downing, one of three Democrats running for governor, called for major new investments in child care on Thursday, endorsing legislation that would cap family child care expenses at 7 percent of household income as part of a plan to make care more accessible to working families.

If elected, Downing said, he would seek to use money from “comprehensive tax reform” or the proposed income tax increase on the wealthy that will be on the 2022 ballot to provide direct funding to child care providers that would be based on capacity, not enrollment.

The goal, Downing said during Thursday, would be to increase capacity in the system and eliminate “child care deserts” in parts of the state where demand can sometimes outpace available seats by a three-to-one margin. According to his campaign, Downing wants to “establish a system of universal affordable, high-quality, early education and child care for every infant through pre-kindergartener in Massachusetts.”

“This should be as simple as K to twelve is,” Downing said.


While state tax collections have recently shattered expectations by billions of dollars and lawmakers are debating how to deploy billions of dollars in additional federal stimulus, the Democrats running for governor all support raising more revenue through tax reform to pay for investments beyond the window open for spending surplus and stimulus money.

Legislators last month advanced to the 2022 ballot a constitutional amendment to add a 4 percent surtax on household income over $1 million and generate an estimated $2 billion in taxes. That revenue that Downing is looking to tap would be earmarked, under the proposal, for “quality public education and affordable public colleges and universities, and for the repair and maintenance of roads, bridges and public transportation.”

Downing was joined on Instagram live by his wife, Micaelah Morrill, to roll out his newest policy platform, after already releasing plans to address climate change and poverty. Downing and Morrill are raising two sons, Malcom and Eamon, in East Boston, and both said figuring out how to juggle child care and careers can be one of the most challenging puzzles for a family to solve.


Morrill said reform is necessary to not only relieve families of the stress and financial burden of child care, but also to support employers whose workers depend on child care to remain in the workforce and support the economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“If we get this right, it makes it easier to get a lot of other things right,” Morrill said, later adding, “This is the time and this is the moment to break down this broken system and build a better one.”

Downing’s plan is modeled off legislation developed by the Common Start Coalition and filed in the House by Representatives Kenneth Gordon and Adrian Madaro and in the Senate by Senators Jason Lewis and Su Moran.

The House bill has 103 co-sponsors, including Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz, who launched her own campaign for governor last month.

Downing said his plan would save the “typical family” with an infant $14,000 a year by capping child care expenses at 7 percent of household income, which is similar to the cap President Biden proposed for low- to moderate-income families in his American Families Plan.

The cap, Downing said, would be phased in over three to five years as the state increases direct investment in child care centers to expand capacity. As governor, he said, he would prioritize free access for “underresourced” families living in communities hurt by the pandemic and most in need of assistance.


“That’s all a matter of building consensus for the funding, whether it’s Fair Share or comprehensive tax reform, but you have to find a way to do it,” Downing said.

“We haven’t seen that leadership from Governor Baker. We haven’t seen that leadership from Beacon HIll. It’s time to step up,” he continued.

Downing and Morrill said the plan would not only save families money, but for every dollar invested in child care they said the state would save $13 long-term on criminal justice, welfare, special education, and other costs.

In addition to waitlists made longer after many home-based centers were forced to close during the pandemic, the average cost of child care in Massachusetts is $21,000, according to Downing’s campaign.

Downing also said he would create a Childcare Coordinating Council to help families access non-child care services, such as health care, diaper banks, and supplemental nutrition benefits.