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A group of St. Paul organizers called on voters Sunday to support a ballot initiative that would raise property taxes to pay for child care for low-income families.

A dozen advocates and several of their young children gathered at Rondo Community Library to launch a campaign for the initiative, listening and cheering as their leaders spoke about the effort.

"Early childhood education is one of the best investments St. Paul can make," said City Council Member Nelsie Yang.

Affordable child care helps working parents, she said, and access to quality early learning will better prepare children for school.

"You all ready to go to work?" Yang asked the activists. The group cheered.

To fund the child care subsidies, the city would increase its property tax levy $2 million a year for 10 years — $2 million in the first year, $4 million in the second year and so on, until $20 million is levied in the 10th year.

Advocates of the program have not yet determined exactly how that money would be distributed to families. But City Council Member Rebecca Noecker, a member of a group that started exploring the policy in 2017, said she and others will work with consultants to develop a detailed plan and budget by early fall.

A split City Council voted last summer to put the measure on the 2024 ballot, overriding a rare veto from Mayor Melvin Carter. At the time, the mayor offered a laundry list of criticisms, describing the proposal as a "nakedly dishonest" promise to cover care for all low-income families without enough money to do so.

Carter has said he would refuse to implement the ballot measure if passed as is. He has said the language of the question authorizes — but does not require — the levy increase.

"I've said from the beginning that this is just not a viable plan from our perspective," he said in an interview Friday. "I think they'll find out really quickly that there's just not the path around this office that they may have thought there was."

Noecker on Friday said she is concerned by the suggestion that Carter would refuse to do what voters mandate.

"He has continued to say that he doesn't want things to go to voters if they aren't fully fleshed out," she said of the mayor. "It is 100 percent our plan to make sure that those details are figured out before it goes to voters and before we come to the city to implement it."

St. Paul's budget for 2024 includes $80,000 to hire an early learning consultant, which Noecker said should be selected in the next month. The St. Paul Children's Collaborative has also funded a financial analysis by Denver-based MetrixIQ.

That work will look at current and projected state aid to determine how many children could be served by the St. Paul, as well as how to accept and evaluate applications for subsidies. Noecker said advocates have been transparent that the city would not be able to cover every family's needs.

"Generally, that's how public policy programs work: They do as much as they can for as many as they can," she said.

Noecker said she hopes that if St. Paul's levy were increased, the state would continue to raise child care funding to fill the city's gap.