Doug Howgate was a college student majoring in political science at Holy Cross when he went on a field trip to a place he’d never seen before, the Massachusetts State House.
“I’m pretty sure looking back it was during a Ways and Means hearing,” he recalls. “We went down to Gardner Auditorium. I remember seeing Senate Ways and Means Chair Mark Montigny there. You just got a sense that the building had a lot of energy, that there was a lot going on, the issues seemed relevant to where I lived, and really it just seemed like it would be a fun place to work for a couple years.”
Today, after more than a few years of work in various jobs both inside and just outside the State House and after earning a master’s degree in public policy from Georgetown University, Howgate is the president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation (MTF), and he’s pushing Massachusetts to make progress on a number of issues, including early education and care.
“I’m very lucky to live in Massachusetts, a place with a very active and engaged state government, where you can see policy in action, and you can see a connection between the things you do on Beacon Hill, and the things that happen in the lives of you and your family.”
Howgate is aware of the challenges the state faces: that resources are limited and that policymakers can’t do everything. He’s aware of persistent inequities, acknowledging that “being a white guy from a liberal arts college, I had a lot of benefits that I wasn’t aware of at the time,” including Holy Cross alumni who helped him get jobs.
But Howgate is also optimistic that the state can address these challenges.
“Most people in Massachusetts want the state to succeed. What does that mean? A lot of different things to different people. But one fundamental element is that this should be a vibrant state that keeps the people who want to be here here – and that attracts new people to Massachusetts.”
That means Boston and the state’s different regions have to prosper.
“As we make an investment or decision in one area, we have to ask, How does that decision affect the vibrancy of Massachusetts? What are the tradeoffs? At the state level, we have to make sure all the pieces fit together.”
At the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, Howgate supports policies that promote “the sustainable, equitable, long term economic growth of the commonwealth,” including transportation, health care, and infrastructure.
“Eileen McAnneny, my predecessor, was really good at saying we should apply the foundation’s mission in new ways,” Howgate says. This has led to conversations with Tom Weber about early childhood education and child care. Weber is the former commissioner of the Department of Early Education and Care and the Executive Director at Massachusetts Business Coalition for Early Childhood Education.
To Howgate, early childhood was an area where there was a need for more “research on the connection between policy goals, economic impact, and state finances – which is what we do.”
So the foundation hired Ashley White to be a senior policy researcher, and she wrote the recently released report Preparing for Child Care Reform: How to Improve the Subsidy System to Maximize Future Investment, which we’ve blogged about.
“Pre-pandemic, there was a growing understanding that if we want to enable residents to work, there needs to be access to child care,” Howgate says. “And access means a few things, including geographic access, and having access to a place where you want your children to be, and it has to be something that you can afford.”
“Then you had that reality combined with a pandemic that destabilized what was already a system on shaky ground. And this raises questions about what we have to do to our system not in 20 years but right now when we have a crisis on our hands. We have to work to make the system more resilient, and we have to make sure that employers and residents have a system in place that makes sense for their needs and that also makes sense economically.”
Howgate says Massachusetts has a few advantages that can help with this work. One is that from 2021 to 2022 the state budget grew by $11.5 billion. By comparison, it took ten years before that for the state budget to grow by $11 billion. And while this recent, fast growth in revenue will moderate, and even though economic uncertainty remains, this extra revenue does create some room for wise investments in early childhood programs.
“I think MTF’s role in this is to be an honest broker and also say that we need to find places where there’s room for improved coordination and more efficiency. We need improved data systems that effectively assign families to places where there’s child care. And we absolutely believe in the continuation of [C3] stabilization grants, which we believe are sustainable within the current budget structure.”
The stabilization grants also create more time, Howgate says, to develop additional sustainable solutions for early childhood and child care programs.
“We have to think across a variety of those kinds of areas, whether it’s policy decisions, financial decisions, management decisions, and try to be honest and transparent about where the challenges are. Some of them are financial, but not all of them.”
Howgate says that a key strategy for MTF is being a constructive partner and listening.
“We go where the data takes us. That’s our north star. But when we point to something in state government and say this isn’t working, we’ve already talked to the people who are doing the work. We talk to people, and we say, If you think our analysis is unfair, we are happy to listen to that feedback. Our goal isn’t to finger point. Our goal is to make the system better. We try to do that in a respectful way that keeps in mind that a lot of people in all these areas have worked really hard.”
As the state moves toward a new fiscal year and the first budget proposal that will come from Governor Maura Healey, the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation will keep an eye on early education as well as health care, taxes, and transportation.
“Another area that I want to see us engaged in is the workforce,” Howgate adds, “and how we do more to connect communities of color and low-income communities, who historically have not had access to the economic opportunities that should have been available to them.”
For Howgate it’s all part of a common theme.
“It goes back to the question of how Massachusetts can be a place that retains and attracts people and employers. It goes back to making this a great place where people want to live.”