For tax plan, Gonzalez’s gives it the college try

The Massachusetts Republican Party has hammered Democratic gubernatorial nominee Jay Gonzalez for not releasing details of how he would pay for an ambitious agenda that calls for new spending on education and transportation. Gonzalez has answered that with a plan — but he’s now getting hammered over the details of it.

Gonzalez is proposing a 1.6 percent tax on the endowment of all universities with holdings in excess of $1 billion. The levy would bring in an estimated $1 billion a year. Gonzalez’s campaign says it would affect nine institutions, but the majority of the tax — $563 million — would be paid by one: Harvard University, which sits on an endowment of $36 billion.

The plan represents one approach to fill in a pot of money for new spending that many Democrats were counting on from the so-called millionaires’ tax, a levy on high-earners that looked like a good bet to be approved by voters — until it was tossed off the November ballot by the Supreme Judicial Court.

Gonzalez has pledged not to propose new taxes on middle or lower-income residents. But the plan to tax big universities is not meeting anywhere near the kind of favorable reception as the idea of going after high-earning individuals.

One of the biggest problems in getting Democrats on board is that the plan is an even louder echo of a provision of the congressional Republican tax bill that was roundly condemned by Democrats. That measure calls for a 1.4 percent tax on the earnings of large endowments. Gonzalez’s proposal goes much farther, calling for a levy of 1.6 on the full value of large endowments.

Gov. Charlie Baker says he hasn’t wavered on the issue, opposing the congressional Republican plan as well as his Democratic opponent’s version of it. “I thought it was a bad idea then, and I still think it’s a bad idea,” Baker said. Joe Battenfeld says the issue is “a layup” for Baker, speculating that we’ll hear about the plan in a coming ad from the Republican governor.

The best Gonzalez seems to be getting is golf claps from leading Democrats, many of whom spoke out against the Republican plan when it was rolled out.

“She strongly supports investments in affordable education and infrastructure, believes there are a number of ways to do so, and applauds Jay for starting this conversation about ways to invest in Massachusetts,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s campaign said in a statement. Sen. Ed Markey took a similar tack, with a spokeswoman saying he “thanks Jay Gonzalez for starting this important discussion.”

A Globe editorial calls the proposal “a conversation starter at best,” though the paper credits Gonzalez for rolling out specifics of his revenue plan and says the issue of nonprofits contributing more to public needs is a fair one to explore.

As easy as it is to go after a Harvard, MIT, and other wealthy universities, critics point out that any hit to their coffers could be a hit to efforts to provide financial aid for lower-income families and enroll a more diverse student body — something one would imagine many Democrats support, writes Tom Keane for WBUR. A counterargument from Gonzalez that Harvard could probably afford to maintain its financial aid commitment while also helping the state meet its needs got a boost with news this morning reported by The Harvard Crimson that the university blew past a five-year capital campaign goal of raising $6.5 billion by raking in an eye-popping $9.6 billion.

Nevertheless, a recent national poll conducted for WGBH News found 50 percent of Americans opposed to taxing college endowments and 43 in favor. Democrats were more strongly opposed to the idea, with 55 percent against it compared to 47 percent of Republicans who were against the idea.

For Gonzalez, the plan answers some of the basic math questions about how he’d pay for his education and transportation agenda. But with even fellow Democrats sounding lukewarm toward the endowment tax, at best, the political question of whether it will get voters excited about his campaign seems much less clear.

MICHAEL JONAS


BEACON HILL

S&P Global Ratings says Massachusetts’ rainy day fund is too small to weather another recession. (State House News)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Wellfleet reopened the town’s four beaches that had been shut down since a Revere man was attacked and killed by a shark last Saturday. (Cape Cod Times)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Republican senators insisting on a no-delay approach to the Supreme Court confirmation vote on Brett Kavanaugh could be risking a backlash from women voters angered by the handling of an accusation that the nominee sexually assaulted a teenage girl while in high school. (Boston Globe)

In a massive, 10,000-word story unpacking Russian interference in the 2016 elections, the New York Times says a “plausible case” can be made that President Vladimir Putin launched the effort to help Donald Trump win, with or without the campaign’s knowledge but with the cooperation of campaign officials.

Warwick, Rhode Island, police divers, searching for a mannequin during a training drill, instead found an actual human body in the Pawtuxet River. (Providence Journal)

ELECTIONS

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jay Gonzalez is following the millionaire tax playbook, but instead of taxing well-to-do individuals he wants to tax nine, wealthy, private colleges and universities. (CommonWealth)

Joan Vennochi looks at an earlier race in which a Democrat faced long odds in trying to oust a tall incumbent governor — Mark Roosevelt’s 1994 campaign against Bill Weld. (Boston Globe)

Gov. Charlie Baker and Sen. Elizabeth Warren both hold healthy leads in their respective reelection races, according to a Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll. The poll also shows support for ballot questions mandating minimum nurse staffing levels and maintaining the state’s transgender rights law. (Boston Globe)

After losing the Democratic primary, Berkshire County District Attorney Paul Caccaviello says he is mounting a write-in campaign for the office because the primary winner, Andrea Harrington, is too inexperienced. (CommonWealth) Judith Knight, the third-place finisher in the primary, indicated she would support Caccaviello if he agreed to back certain reform measures. (Berkshire Eagle)

The state’s health insurance plans urge the Health Policy Commission to estimate the cost of the nurse ballot question to settle a raging debate between the two sides. (State House News)

State Rep. Geoff Diehl, one of President Trump’s leading supporters in the state, who is looking to unseat US Sen. Elizabeth Warren, says candidates for president should release their income tax returns, though he gave a pass to Trump. (Patriot Ledger)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

House Speaker Robert DeLeo is urging National Grid to end its lockout of 1,250 striking workers and resume negotiations with their union. (Boston Herald)

The troubled Motel 6 off Route 3 in Braintree will stay closed permanently after owners dropped their appeal of the town’s decision to revoke the license after decades of crimes and drug use at the motel, including last year’s shooting of a police officer trying to serve a warrant. (Patriot Ledger)

A proposed 656-unit housing development near Andrew Square in South Boston may be back on track with the addition of Samuels & Associates to the development team. (Boston Globe)

Congress is considering changes to the allotment of work-related green cards that could be good for Chinese and Indian nationals, but bad for workers from other countries. (Boston Globe)

President Trump’s escalating trade war with China has spurred an unexpected boost in the demand for knockoff designer handbags. (Washington Post)

EDUCATION

A Dorchester Reporter editorial urges UMass Boston to come clean about its development plans for the so-called Bayside parcel of land and not keep everything close to the vest the way it did with Robert Kraft.

Supporters are rallying around the Saugus High School football coach, who was suspended last month and faces termination today over an incident in which a player who lacked proper equipment was apparently allowed to practice in his underwear.

A new study on grade inflation finds that it occurs more often in schools attended by affluent students than those serving a poorer population. (U.S. News & World Report)

TRANSPORTATION

Residents near downtown Quincy are irate about nighttime construction underway at the MBTA’s Quincy Center station. (Patriot Ledger)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

A Herald editorial says the feds need to quicken the pace of their investigation into the gas explosions that rocked the Merrimack Valley. Meanwhile, pipeline experts sounded safety alarms over plans to replace 48 miles of gas pipeline on an accelerated timeline, but the alternative — thousands of customers without heat or hot water well into winter months — is hardly appealing either. (Boston Globe) Columbia Gas withdrew a $33 million rate increase scheduled to kick in shortly. (Eagle-Tribune) A Lowell Sun editorial slammed Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jay Gonzalez for criticizing DPU oversight of Columbia, saying now is not the time to try to score political points.

Barnstable County officials have offered to facilitate meetings with local officials to try to find a collaborative approach to dealing with the growing menace of sharks in Cape waters. (Cape Cod Times) It turns out that it’s a big ocean out there, and no approach to preventing shark attacks on swimmers is entirely effective. (Boston Globe)

CASINOS

Three Springfield strip bars are asking city officials to allow them to stay open later to help them offset the loss of business to the MGM casino. (MassLive)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

The ACLU of Massachusetts, representing an inmate at the Essex House of Correction, filed a lawsuit alleging the inmate is being illegally being denied methadone to deal with his opioid addiction. (WBUR)

MEDIA

Ian Buruma, the editor of the New York Review of Books, stepped down after the publication of an essay by a Canadian broadcaster who had been accused of sexaully assaulting women. (New York Times)

Comcast and Fox will go head-on in their $35 billion battle for the British TV network Sky in an auction overseen by British regulators this weekend. (Wall Street Journal)