Issues

ISSUES

Ben is committed to offering the voters of Massachusetts the most thoughtful, ambitious, and expansive policy agenda of any candidate in this race. Read his individual issue plans below and stay tuned in the weeks ahead as we continue to roll out more proposals to build a fairer, stronger Massachusetts.

Climate Anti-Poverty Childcare


THE DOWNING CLIMATE PLAN

Massachusetts deserves a Governor who understands the urgency of our changing climate and the myriad ways this issue intersects with every other major challenge we face — COVID, racial & economic justice, public health, transportation, housing, municipal budgets, agriculture & food security, immigration, and more. These are all climate issues. As a former state senator, I led efforts to build a clean energy economy, creating policies to require major utilities to buy clean energy and programs to train workers for jobs in the sector. Today those policies are bearing fruit throughout the region. I fought to divest our state pension funds from fossil fuels, create green jobs in environmental justice communities, and accelerate energy efficiency. After I term-limited myself and stepped down from office, I joined a leading renewable energy company to dedicate myself full-time to solving the climate crisis.

I bring to the fight against climate all my experience. My experience as a kid in Pittsfield, seeing what happens when industry sacrifices the environment and public health for short term gains. My experience as a parent, knowing Malcolm and Eamon aren’t guaranteed a safe, clean environment. My experience as a clean energy business leader, seeing the potential of new technologies to help solve this problem. My experience as a climate leader in the State Senate, fighting for the policy to unlock that potential. In a Downing Administration there will be no question about if climate is a priority. It has been my priority, it will be my priority.


1. Achieve 100% Clean Electricity by 2030

Policy: Massachusetts will commit to meet 100% of electricity demand with clean energy by 2030.

Problem: Under current law, Massachusetts will hit 80% of electricity demand with clean energy by 2050. In the intervening 20 years, our state will deal with climate-induced flooding & storm increases, our Black & Brown residents will continue to bear the brunt of fossil fuel use, our families will pay some of the highest electricity and energy rates in the country, and our economy will remain badly exposed, at the tail-end of all national fossil fuel pipelines and infrastructure.

Action Plan: MA will set a bold goal of being the first state in the nation to 100% clean electricity. We will do that by, but not limited to, increasing the Renewable Portfolio & Clean Energy Standards, reducing bureaucratic delays that keep clean energy from connecting to the grid, and improving our energy efficiency programs. To meet this goal, the Downing Administration will commit to producing 1.5GW of clean electricity per year for the next decade.


2. Achieve 100% Clean Electricity by 2040

Policy: Massachusetts will commit to meet all non-electricity demand (heating, cooling and transportation) with clean energy by 2040.

Problem: Under current law, there is no specific timeline by which non-electricity sectors will be fossil fuel free. Under Governor Baker’s net-zero framework, fossil fuel emitters could continue to operate for decades to come.

Action Plan: Massachusetts will set an ambitious goal of transitioning all non-electricity sectors to 100% clean energy by 2040. This will require multiple initiatives in every sector and partnership between federal, state & local governments, the private sector, environmental advocates and residents. These efforts will include, but not be limited to: electric vehicle incentives and infrastructure build-out, the shifting of all public fleets to electric vehicles, investments in alternative technologies to thermal heating, and planning for large-scale adoption campaigns on all technologies.The Downing Administration will launch a Race to Zero program, creating a competition among municipalities for grants to support 100% clean energy by 2040.


3. Require 50% of climate spending directly benefit environmental justice communities

Policy: Massachusetts will make a comprehensive climate justice commitment, requiring that 50% of all climate spending directly benefits designated environmental justice communities and ensuring that climate & environmental policy reforms proactively address issues of equity, discrimination, and disproportionate harm.

Problem: For decades, if not centuries, Black and Brown residents of Massachusetts have born a disproportionate burden of fossil fuel use. Polluting infrastructure has been sited in poor communities, driving down air quality and driving up asthma, chronic heart disease and other related health outcomes. This has continued to be the case under the Baker Administration, which has pursued controversial projects from the Weymouth Compressor Station to the Palmer Biomass site and proposed East Boston substation. Pending state law may formally define environmental justice for the first time and ensure such considerations are taken during project applications, but to achieve equity a more proactive, comprehensive approach is required.

Action Plan: In a Downing Administration, Massachusetts will put equity at the center of its climate agenda, requiring that half of all state climate spending directly benefit environmental communities, through funding, job creation, MWhs produced, tax benefits, and other key metrics. In addition, we will pursue: enhanced enforcement of polluters via the Department of Environmental Protection; direct outreach campaigns with local partners to ensure adoption of state programs (including to landlords to ensure renter benefit); and the development of a MA Climate Corps to fill gaps in our current programs and market. An independent office of public engagement will be established at the Energy Facilities Siting Board, whose primary charge will be ensuring all EFSB processes achieve meaningful, accessible, and culturally-competent opportunities for public input and feedback. Regional EJ Outreach Teams, which the Baker Administration eliminated, will be re-established. Funds will again be set aside for brownfields/toxic remediation in EJ communities and state climate resilience funds will be subject to the 50% guarantee established above. Finally, recognizing that EJ communities disproportionately experience the intersectionality of climate and public transit, a Downing Administration will commit to having a fully electric fleet of buses in at least 20 EJ communities by 2024.


4. Undertake “Restructuring 3.0” to reform utilities & modernize grid

Policy: Massachusetts will undertake overarching utility reform and grid operation/modernization focused on achieving climate goals in the most cost-effective manner possible and using state rates & regulations to incentivize utilities towards a non-fossil fuel future.

Problem: Massachusetts’ current utility business model is not compatible with an urgent transition to a clean energy economy. Existing utility processes delay clean energy coming on to the grid, denying gas utilities a clear path to a non-fossil fuel future, while current state rates and regulations fail to incentivize the transition and guide the way.

Action Plan: Massachusetts will reform its utilities to make it crystal clear their purpose is to help our state lead the transition to a clean energy economy. We can do this while ensuring the utilities’ day-to-day functions of safely providing essential service remain intact and reducing overall costs for ratepayers. This will include centralizing procurement of clean energy resources at the state level, removing that function from utilities. Utility rates will be redesigned from the ground up to reflect the multiple values provided by clean energy, including public health, environmental and system benefits. Instead of taking the utilities’ word that a substation is needed, they will be required to put out the need to RFP, with priority given to responses using clean energy, efficiency


5. Create a climate impact mandate across state government

Policy: Every department within Massachusetts state government will have in its mission to consider and minimize the impact of their operations on climate change.

Problem: A siloed response to climate fails to match both the scale and intersectionality of this crisis. Previous Administrations have too often kept climate action within the confines of the Executive Office of Environmental & Energy Affairs, rather than undertaking a coordinated and interagency approach.

Action Plan: In a Downing Administration, each Executive Office and department will have a climate-specific mandate as part of its mission, ensuring climate is considered in things like transit budgets, zoning laws, public health regulations, and more. We will coordinate across all levels of government, with the private sector, non-profits, and more to ensure every policy is advancing an equitable, expeditious transition to a clean energy economy. State government will double down on the Leading by Example program and showcase how state office buildings and state-supported infrastructure can meet our goals. Along with the policy review, there will be similar coordination focused exclusively on implementing the climate-specific components of legislation to ensure policy potential is maximized. Finally, the Downing Administration will endorse, support and advocate for divesting all state-controlled pension funds from fossil fuel industries.


6. Maximize the economic benefit of a clean energy economy in Massachusetts

Policy: Massachusetts will maximize the transition to a clean energy economy to create new industries, companies and jobs. It will make the investments needed to keep opportunities local and maximize the economic benefit of all climate-related policies. Economic benefit will be prioritized for EJ communities and those displaced from fossil fuel industries.

Problem: The Baker Administration has ignored the economic benefits of climate action by failing to invest in the Mass Clean Energy Center, failing to create a climate industry ecosystem that will attract the innovative companies of the future, failing to prioritize local economic benefit in clean energy RFPs and more. Thousands of jobs can and will be created by the transition to a clean energy economy. However, if Massachusetts does not act intentionally, we will see those jobs outsourced, economically distressed communities left behind, and former fossil fuel workers asked to fend for themselves.

Action Plan: Massachusetts will make economic benefit a co-priority, along with cost, in the execution of all clean energy programs and awards. A Downing Administration will double Mass CEC’s budget and use those resources to invest in equity, justice and innovation in the clean energy industry across the state. Mass CEC will partner with local communities and community-based organizations to support the achievement of the 50% EJ guarantee. Clean Energy RFPs will take into greater consideration the economic benefits of various proposals, including partnership with EJ communities and organized labor. In addition, Mass CEC will partner with community colleges, unions, employers and Workforce Investment Boards to ensure the connection of fossil fuel employees with job opportunities in clean energy and training programs connected to existing jobs. Massachusetts will establish a Transitioning Energy Workers Bill of Rights to ensure retirement security, health benefit continuation and education support at all state community colleges and universities.


THE DOWNING ANTI-POVERTY PLAN

There are few areas where Massachusetts’ lack of urgency in tackling big policy challenges has more painful human consequences than when it comes to poverty; the difference literally between being able to keep yourself and your loved ones sheltered, clothed, and fed, and living in constant fear that you cannot meet those basic needs. Our state saw the single highest increase in people needing help accessing food since COVID began — in the entire country. That fact should shock every single one of us into action.

Under a Downing Administration, reducing and eliminating poverty will be at the center, not the sidelines, of our economic agenda.


1. INCOME

Policy: Massachusetts will commit to end child poverty and cut overall poverty in half by 2030.

Problem: MA’s economic health masks massive, growing economic inequality. The child poverty rate in our state is 20% higher than the overall poverty rate. The Black and Latinx poverty rates are 87% and 108% higher than overall. Poverty is a racial equity issue that permeates all other issues. Living in poverty is directly related to educational attainment gaps, health inequity and more.

Action Plan: Massachusetts will set a goal of eliminating child poverty and cutting overall poverty in half. We will do that by the following steps, among others: Double the Earned Income Tax Credit (60% federal match), establish a partial match of the federal Child Tax Credit, fund outreach for VITA (tax assistance to maximize uptake of credits), increase TAFDC payments above deep poverty level and create a statewide jobs program leveraging all administration initiatives (i.e. Climate Corps, etc.)


2. FOOD SECURITY

Policy: Massachusetts will eliminate child hunger and cut overall hunger in half by 2030.

Problem: Massachusetts has experienced the highest increase of child food insecurity anywhere in the country since COVID: 102%. Overall, food insecurity has more than doubled, leaving 1 in 6 households statewide food insecure. Hunger disproportionately impacts children and people of color. 1 in 6 white households with kids were food insecure at the end of last year, compared with 1 in 3 Black and 1 in 4 Latinx households.

Action Plan: Massachusetts will set a goal of eliminating child hunger and cutting overall hunger/food insecurity in half by 2030.We will do that by the following steps, among others: Make permanent universal school meals, increase the MEFAP budget to $45M, increase support for summer meal outreach, create the Hunger-APR program to help farmers preserve land dedicated to meeting the needs of food insecure families, create state reimbursement for SNAP outreach to match federal, and require state & public entities to consider steps food vendors are taking in state to reduce hunger as part of procurement. We will invest in a resilient, sustainable, local food system, providing direct grants to farmers and building out the infrastructure to deliver products reliably to markets and the people who need them.


3. HOUSING SECURITY

Policy: Massachusetts will cut the number of unhoused residents in half by 2027 and pursue a housing for all strategy.

Problem: The rate of people experiencing homelessness has doubled in Massachusetts since 1990.Public schools have consistently identified over 24,000 students experiencing homelessness. Massachusetts is the 3rd least affordable state, based on housing costs. Poverty and homelessness are intertwined, as high housing costs and low wages limit the ability of many, especially Black and Brown, residents to find safe, stable housing and escape poverty.

Action Plan: Massachusetts will develop a five-year homelessness reduction budget plan focused on substantially increasing and fortifying the Emergency Assistance, RAFT, Home Base and Rental Voucher programs. Investments will prioritize acute support for the unhoused as well as the development of an ample permanent supportive housing stock. The budget plan will intentionally address communities disproportionately impacted by housing insecurity, including those struggling with substance use, LGBTQ+ youth, veterans, and people with disabilities. Additionally, the Downing Administration will support and advocate for a Tenants Right to Counsel and the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase to avoid displacement. Finally, the Downing Administration will implement the proposed Bill of Rights for people experiencing homelessness, guaranteeing the right to privacy of property, the right to confidentiality of records, the right to vote, and other essential civil rights protections.


4. JOBS

Policy: Along with investments in safety net programs, the Downing Administration will pursue targeted job programs in the 20 communities/neighborhoods (at least 2–3 bordering census tracts) with the highest poverty rates (all at least double state average).

Problem: Massachusetts economic health masks massive economic, racial, gender and regional inequity.Poverty in Massachusetts is highly concentrated. Structural barriers exist to connecting those living in poverty to jobs through existing means. In dozens of neighborhoods across MA the poverty rates are consistently 3–400% the state average.

Action Plan: The Downing Administration will organize a community-based jobs program in 20 neighborhoods/communities with the highest poverty rates. State support will include funding skill training and small business technical assistance and direct state support to anchor institutions who shift spending away from external sources and towards community employersPriority will be placed on support for Black, Brown, LGBTQ, and women-owned businesses, with special consideration for those who prioritize worker ownership and community wealth building. The stakeholders for each community will serve as a working group to inform further efforts to improve, reform and expand current state programs aimed at reducing poverty.


5. GOVERNANCE

Policy: Coordinateall state government agencies to leverage current efforts to reduce poverty.

Problem: Too often state government does not coordinate within agencies, between programs or across issues areas. Programs designed to undo poverty as well as hunger and homelessness reduction are spread out across multiple well-intentioned efforts. Unfortunately, over time, they act in silos, with inequitable outcomes for the people intended to be served. The end result is a higher concentration of poverty, hunger, and housing insecurity because of programs that manage, instead of solve, problems. Often, the programs are inaccessible and confusing, acting as yet another structural barrier for Black and Brown communities, single parents or single income families, children, and the unhoused.

Action Plan: Governor Downing will appoint a new cabinet level official to coordinate anti-poverty efforts across state government, including establishing a Shared Equity Leadership Working Group that is composed of all Cabinets and state agency commissioners. They will present to the Governor, within 100 days, a plan for reorganizing state government tomeet poverty reduction goals. They will then present to the Governor, within 180 days, an implementation strategy building off of the initial recommendations.


Childcare Plan

Policy: The Downing Administration will establish a system of universal affordable, high-quality, early education and childcare for every infant through pre-kindergartener in Massachusetts.

Problem: Access to childcare is one of the defining economic justice issues of our time. In many ways, it is the single greatest determinant of early childhood development, reading proficiency, college graduation rates, and long term health and wellbeing. But inaccessibility and high costs continue to widen achievement gaps and narrow pipelines to success for children across Massachusetts .

We may tell ourselves we’re first in the nation on education, but Massachusetts has the highest childcare costs in the country—making it unaffordable for a staggering 95% of Massachusetts families. And if the average $21,000 annual cost wasn’t enough, half of Massachusetts residents before the COVID pandemic lived in communities where there were three kids for every one childcare seat. These childcare deserts disproportionately impact Black and Latinx families, putting an even greater strain on systemically overburdened and under-resourced communities. And the problem isn’t just access to care, but to high-quality care. High-quality childcare includes strong curriculum and supportive teaching in classrooms, professional development, small class sizes, and full-time schedules.

The current system also fails to support the early education and childcare workforce. Childcare workers’ families are more than twice as likely to live in poverty as other workers’ families. When 98% of the Massachusetts childcare workforce is women and more diverse than the Massachusetts population, you simply cannot talk about remedying gender pay and racial wealth gaps without tackling this issue head on.

Action Plan: Massachusetts will create a system of universal, early education and childcare for every family. Not only is this imperative for workers and families, it’s an incredible investment for the state. For every $1 invested in childcare, it saves Massachusetts taxpayers $13 in longterm costs associated with prisons, welfare, and both special education and grade repetition. An investment of $16,000-$18,000 per child annually in the early years returns a total public benefit of $700,000-$800,000 over the life of the child. Universal childcare is the best investment a government can make to  support the next generation and reduce overall spending.

The Common Start Coalition has introduced legislation that would establish an affordable, high-quality system over a 5-year timeline, prioritizing the lowest-income, highest-need families. This bill forms the essential foundation of my childcare agenda, and, as Governor, I will be proud to sign that bill into law. We will:


1. Reform childcare funding model to more accurately cover provider costs.

We achieve universal access for every family in Massachusetts through a new model of funding. Where the current system bases allocation on attendance, this bill would account for capacity. This direct-to-provider funding model would offset provider operating costs, leading to higher worker wages. The Common Start legislation also ensures all policy implementation accounts for the specialized needs of parents, caregivers, and children with high needs. It also ensures equal access to our language-diverse parents and children through the utilization of bilingual staff, interpreters, and consistent document translation.


2. Enact a 7% household income cap on childcare costs

Under this plan, no family will have to pay more than 7% of their total household income for childcare services. This 7% income cap will save a typical Massachusetts family with an infant $14,000 on childcare costs, freeing up 20% of their annual income to spend on other essentials. This will also allow 34,000 more parents across the state the option to enter the labor force, and will result in robust economic activity to the tune of $4.8 billion funneled into the Massachusetts economy.


3. Establish and prioritize free access for poor and working-class families

Low-income children and families are more likely to struggle to find affordable, high-quality care–and that’s why this plan puts these communities first for free access to services. Critically, this plan prioritizes under-resourced children and communities most in need of rapid-response support. This is implemented through a family-subsidy model that ensures poor and working-class families have free access to high-quality childcare from birth to school-age. The expansion structure then prioritizes further subsidies by income range, with poor and teen parent families at the top of the list. In addition to the foundation in the Common Start legislation, I will seek to include that implementation prioritize coordination with healthcare providers across the state to ensure families are made aware of these services during prenatal visits.


4. Overhaul compensation structure so childcare workers receive just and fair wages

The childcare workforce is one of the most dramatically underpaid sectors in the country, so much so that too many childcare workers do not even make enough money to send their own children where they work. That is every kind of wrong imaginable. Under the Common Start legislation, childcare workers are finally treated like—and compensated as—the true, professional educators that they are. This is a workforce that is 90% women and upwards of 40% women of color, making just and fair wages in this sector a pillar of our larger efforts to address the gender and racial pay gaps. Under this plan, educators will receive higher salaries commensurate with equivalent K-12 teaching positions. Childcare workers will also receive expanded professional development opportunities. With an eye toward supporting incoming classes of childcare workers, the bill also establishes a grant program providing scholarships, loan forgiveness, and other financial assistance to those seeking to enter the field.


5. Make state government meet families where they are at

As part of the expanded services offered under this plan, the Downing Administration Childcare Coordinating Council will seek to coordinate provisions of non-childcare services to all children and their families. Through the childcare access point, families will be reminded of eligibility for other services, encouraged to enroll, and offered semi-regular check ins to offer feedback on the ways to improve the provision of services. Too often, the needs and experiences of working families are not heard and considered by policy makers. The Childcare Coordinating Council will not only aim for constant improvement of the childcare system, but will serve as a key access point for other core resources—such as health care, WIC, and diaper banks. Deeper coordination at the state level will allow for robust distribution of essential family services, and this system will ensure the state effectively receives feedback from its core constituency.


Every child of Massachusetts deserves equitable birth-to-backpack support from our childcare system. When families are confronted with barriers to childcare, it directly impacts everything—both in the home and in our state economy. Like every parent in this state, Micaelah and I live this every day. And with all of the support and resources we have, we still barely make it work. Our ability to get this done will define the state’s economic success in the decade to come. Establishing a system of affordable, high-quality childcare lays the foundation for a fairer, stronger Massachusetts for everyone.