Murtaza Baxamusa says that when he visited editors and editorial writers at The San Diego Union-Tribune recently, he was grilled on his new group's ties to organized labor. Baxamusa is a board member of, and a driving force behind, the Middle Class Taxpayers Association (MCTA), a nonprofit organization that aims to serve as a foil of sorts to the long-established San Diego County Taxpayers Association (SDCTA), which Baxamusa and his allies believe operates too much under the influence of building contractors and isn't always looking out for the interests of the middle and lower classes.
Let's be clear: SDCTA isn't as passionately anti-every-tax as other taxpayer groups. It will, on occasion, back a tax measure come election time. However, it's become so predictably and zealously anti-labor that we've lost our trust that the venerable organization is able to see past its hostility toward unions.
MCTA provides another option—a welcome second opinion on economic issues that come before elected officials and the voters.
The exchange at the U-T offices gives a glimpse of the challenge that MCTA faces. It must demonstrate its independence from organized labor, because even though unions are not the root of all evil and their policy goals aren't inherently anathema to the interest of taxpayers, their goals don't always mesh with the interest of taxpayers, either. After all, unions exist to advocate for their members, not the general populace.
Baxamusa, a researcher, author and certified planner, in recent years was a public face for the San Diego-based Center on Policy Initiatives, a labor-associated think tank for which he served as deputy director. And it's his presence that likely has local conservatives suspicious of MCTA's motives.
Baxamusa notes that he's merely one member of the group's Board of Directors, which is currently five strong but will grow, and he appears to be doing his best to push Pat Zaharopoulos, MCTA's CEO and board chair, out in front. Underscoring the challenges MCTA faces, Zaharopoulos authored an essay that was published last week in the U-T and was quickly dismissed on Twitter, by conservative thinker Erik Bruvold, because she's a career public servant who dared to speak in positive terms about small businesses.
We chatted with Zaharopoulos and Baxamusa over coffee last week; we've long known Baxamusa, but it was the first time we'd met Zaharopoulos. A prosecutor for the state attorney General's office for more than 30 years, she's sharp and well-spoken. She acknowledged that public-sector pension issues will be tricky for MCTA; the group must find that sweet spot straddling a line between reasonable retirement security and taxpayer protection. But it shouldn't be hard to find rational middle ground in the wide gulf between unions and their antagonists.
Besides Zaharopoulos and Baxamusa, the fledgling board includes Pat Washington, an outspoken activist for gender, sexual-orientation and race equality; Linda Legerrette, who emerged from under the wing of the late businessman and philanthropist Sol Price and now spends her time empowering kids; and Bob Nelson, a PR professional and familiar face in San Diego's halls of power.
Zaharopoulos says she'd like to add a respected economist to the board. Great idea; snagging the University of San Diego's Alan Gin, the most-often-quoted local number cruncher, would be a real coup.
Baxamusa wants to end SDCTA's monopoly on local boards and commissions that have seats reserved for “taxpayer representatives.” Hey, it's a conservative's dream: increased competition.
As the upward redistribution of wealth and deterioration of the middle class in the United States continue, we'll stand with any group that works to reverse those trends. We'll march arm-in-arm with anyone who'll back smart, targeted tax increases as easily as they'll oppose unreasonable taxes—and who doesn't appear to enjoy blasting unions with both barrels for sport. We'll get behind anyone who understands that the only thing that trickles down from trickle-down economics is lower wages relative to inflation.
We're happy to have MCTA on the scene and eagerly await its contributions to the debate.
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