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Opinion

Health care and job creation are important, but Obama must address racism

A racially conscious approach to lawmaking is essential to rooting out institutional racism.

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In California, where communities of color make up the majority of the population, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed a $2.9 billion cut to health and human services, and the complete elimination of cash assistance and the state’s welfare program.

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To be sure, when lawmakers take racial equity into account, they cannot be guided by the politics of scarcity.

If laws and budgets are an expression of society’s values, then the values of fairness and justice should be paramount. That means not passing regressive sales taxes that hit communities of color and the poor the hardest. Or relying on limited middle-income tax deductions and credits, which do little or nothing for our communities that face unemployment at rates above the general population.

If we believe the rhetoric of politicians who say everyone has to tighten their belt in these tough times, this should mean not leaving multibillion-dollar corporations out of the equation. In California, this would mean requiring elected officials to have the fortitude to mandate that companies like Wal-Mart pay their fair share of property taxes.

Earlier this year, Oregon voters agreed to increase corporate taxes on those making $125,000 or more. Through a proposed Fair Share Tax reform, New York State could add $6 billion in revenue for healthcare, education, and the desperately needed safety net.

This is money that is urgently needed to pay for quality healthcare, schools, and services that benefit all of us. And for communities of color it would represent a shift away from societal disinvestment to commitment to fairness.

Racial equity is about putting our values into the laws themselves. It recognizes that every complex society has a history, media, and culture that shape ideas and policies that are not necessarily fair to everyone. And this is not just about fairness for blacks, Latinos, Asians, and other communities of color.

Racial equity is ultimately about creating a society where we are not pitted against one another because everyone gets their needs met. It is a concept that every elected official from city councilwoman to the president should remember as they balance budgets and levy taxes.

Tammy Johnson is director of Strategic Partnerships at Applied Research Center. She is author of “Racing the Statehouse: Advancing Equitable Policies” and five editions of the California Legislative Report Card on Racial Equity.

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