Paul L. Caron

Monday, March 4, 2024

Dorothy Brown And Steven Dean Question Biden Administration's Commitment To Addressing Systemic Racial Bias In The Tax Code

Tax Notes, Treasury Accused of Stonewalling Equity Agenda:

Treasury Department (2019)Dorothy Brown of the Georgetown University Law Center, a proponent of Treasury collecting race statistics to address tax code inequalities, feels seen but not heard as a member of the department's Advisory Committee on Racial Equity.

Brown, author of The Whiteness of Wealth: How the Tax System Impoverishes Black Americans — And How We Can Fix It, was one of 24 individuals chosen as part of Treasury’s newly created group, known as TACRE, and was named co-chair of its Data and Equity Research Subcommittee.

“The structure actually made sense. Having four, five members in each subcommittee allowed us to get a lot done,” Brown said, adding that her subcommittee made two recommendations: for Treasury to address racial equity in its annual green book and for Treasury and the IRS to send data to the U.S. Census Bureau to publish a comprehensive report on tax and race.

While both proposals were approved by the overall committee in March 2023 and sent to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen for consideration, there has yet to be a response.

“Once we made our recommendations, we expected her to be transparent in her decision. That’s what we were told,” Brown said.

Brown said she confronted Yellen in a subsequent meeting in September 2023 at which she was assured that the Treasury secretary was considering the recommendations and found them to be reasonable, but a decision-making time frame wasn’t confirmed.

While the Biden administration has been keen in recent months to tout the potential effects its tax policies have had on minority groups, Brown believes Treasury is skirting around the much larger task of addressing potential systemic biases in the tax code. ...

Steven Dean of Boston University School of Law senses that the formation of TACRE “was not a means, but an end,” adding that it was Treasury’s way of “appearing to do something without actually doing anything.” ...

Despite what he sees as a disingenuous attempt by the Biden administration to address racial inequity, Dean doesn’t believe issues of possible racism in the tax code will play a factor in determining the voting sentiment for marginalized groups come November.

“Quite frankly, tax is just not that important enough of an issue right now compared to other areas such as criminal justice reform,” Dean said.

Brown, however, predicts Biden could get into trouble over time if he appears to be taking the Black vote for granted.

“The Black vote is really what helped him win the nomination and ultimately the presidency in 2020. The fact Treasury seems to be ignoring the harm being done to Black taxpayers, this can be a problem down the line,” Brown said. “I think it is a mistake, in an election year, for Treasury to continue doing business as usual and think they’re going to get away with it. Tax policy, at the end of the day, is a civil rights issue.”

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