Legislators Still Have Time to Advance Racial Equity This Year

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Legislators Still Have Time to Advance Racial Equity This Year

By Elena Hernandez, Policy Analyst, Kim Justice, Senior Budget Analyst, and Lori Pfingst, Research and Policy Director - May 13, 2015

As Washington state’s population becomes more diverse, our lawmakers must invest in the needs of an increasingly multiracial and multiethnic population and ensure that there is equity for all Washingtonians. Too many people of color in Washington don’t have the opportunities they need to advance alongside their peers.

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Our state budget must address persistent race and class divides so that all Washingtonians can contribute their talents toward a thriving 21st century economy. Equity and inclusion aren’t just simply the right thing to do – they are imperative to our economic success (see sidebar for definition of equity versus equality).

Equity_definition_350So as lawmakers negotiate the budget, they should make investments to advance racial equity. This is paramount to helping ensure that hardworking Washington families can get ahead, kids can receive a top-notch education, and we can help create a healthy future for our residents and our environment.

The Facing Race report recently offered key budget recommendations that would invest in opportunity for communities of color. Using the report as a framework, it’s clear that the House budget proposal takes some initial steps to help advance equity. The Senate budget proposal, on the other hand, doesn’t do enough.

Below is a detailed analysis of how the state House and Senate budget proposals differ in their efforts to promote  racial equity. (Please note that this does not cover an exhaustive list of all budget priorities that policymakers can and should consider to improve racial equity.) 


Washington should have a world-class education system that promotes opportunity and helps ensure a strong 21st century economy.  However, we cannot achieve this as a state when so many of our kids face such significant barriers to opportunity. The opportunity gap in education – the gap that results from social and institutional obstacles that make it more difficult for some students to succeed – is especially prominent for kids of color and can start as early as nine months. It continues from early learning all the way through higher education.

Policymakers should work to close this gap so that all Washingtonians have the chance to thrive. This means making sure kids get quality early learning opportunities that set them up for success. It also means making targeted investments in K-12 education and making higher education more affordable

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Economic Security

Our state does best when we have a strong and inclusive middle class that allows all Washingtonians to contribute their talents and creativity and be rewarded fairly for their hard work. However, growing income inequality in our state is undermining our progress. This is feeding into race and class divides that continue to limit the ability of all residents to climb into the middle class and share in our state’s prosperity.

More and more families in our state, especially families of color, are finding it difficult to put food on the table or a roof over their head. Legislators must take steps to improve economic security for all Washingtonians by restoring investments in programs that give a lifeline to people struggling to make ends meet. 

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Healthy People & Environment

Affordable health care is essential to ensure a high quality of life. We also know the environment is playing an increasingly important role in the health and well-being of our communities. However, for too many Washingtonians, including people of color, access to care and a healthy environment are not easy to come by.

While great strides have been made to improve access to affordable health care in recent years, legislators have more work to do to ensure that all communities in Washington state can get the care they need.

Further, communities of color are often the first and worst hit by the effects of pollution. Lawmakers should adopt policies that enable Washingtonians to live in a healthy environment that promotes good health.

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In order for our state to thrive, we need a revenue system that asks everyone to pay their fair share, that is stable, and that provides enough resources to make the investments we need to build a better future. However, our revenue system currently relies disproportionately on residents with lower incomes. Because communities of color are more likely to be among the poorest fifth of Washingtonians, this also means they are more likely to pay the highest portion of their income in state and local taxes – 17 percent. Meanwhile, the wealthiest fifth of Washingtonians pay only 2 percent of their income in state and local taxes. What’s more, people with low incomes, including many people of color, are more likely to feel the pain of budget cuts that are a result of that broken system.

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We know that people of color in Washington state are challenged by a system that limits their access to equal opportunities, but this doesn’t have to be the story. There is still time during special session for lawmakers to make 2015 a year of great progress toward this goal, and they should seize it. Taking these steps today would lead to a better Washington tomorrow. It would allow us to become a place where everyone has an equal chance to succeed.

To learn more about how communities of color are faring in Washington state, see the full Facing Race report – which was released by a coalition of over 50 organizations. It includes a range of additional policy recommendations for how state lawmakers can advance racial equity. For additional such recommendations, read our other recent reports: The Progress Index and Creating an Equitable Future: Black Well-Being 2015 & Beyond

The Budget & Policy Center staff would like to thank Emijah Smith, Community Organizer with Children’s Alliance, and Sharonne Navas, Executive Director of the Equity in Education Coalition, for their assistance with this post.