Leo Martinez on Latinos and the Internal Revenue Code

Published on: Author: Heather Field

Who matters in the tax-policy debate? My colleague, Leo Martinez, in his recent article Latinos and the Internal Revenue Code: A Tax Policy Primer for the New Administration, 20 Harv. Latinx L. Rev. 101 (2017), argues that legislators and policymakers should pay more attention to Latinos and how they are adversely affected by the tax law. To further that goal, Professor Martinez writes a non-technical article that acquaints non-experts with the ways in which the seemingly neutral tax code disadvantages Latinos. Professor Martinez explains that the tax code fails to account for Latino culture, low-income status, and educational attainment, and he highlights key problem areas (relative tax burdens of Latinos; Social Security, pension plans, and wealth creation; the earned-income tax credit; and state-tax issues) that provide examples of how Latinos are disfavored by the tax code.

Ultimately, the goal of the article is education because policymakers cannot respond effectively without an understanding of the disparate impact that the tax law has on Latinos. As an educational piece, it succeeds because it is highly accessible for non-experts, it provides a comprehensive overview of how the tax code adversely affects Latinos, and it leaves the reader hoping for tax reform that is fundamentally fair to all taxpayers, including Latinos.

Professor Martinez’s article was published in spring of 2017, yet the sweeping tax-law changes of December 2017 did not heed his recommendations. Reading the article now reveals missed opportunities. By discussing what could have been, it highlights the ways in which our current Congress is failing to take account of how the tax law disproportionately disadvantages certain groups, including Latinos. And it demonstrates that the Latino population, despite its large size, continues to struggle to matter in public-policy debates.

All is not lost, however, because the work of tax reform is never done. Future Congresses will continue to tinker with the Internal Revenue Code, and future state legislatures will continue to amend state tax laws. Each time they do, they will have the opportunity to take seriously the perspectives and needs of Latinos. Perhaps one day they will seize the opportunity.