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Signature gathering gets costly for tax initiative

March 19, 2012 7:12:38 PM PDT
Voters will decide whether to approve Gov. Jerry Brown's tax plan this fall if the measure can gather the needed signatures to make the ballot, and getting those signatures will come at a cost.

Now that Brown and the California Federation of Teachers' new compromise tax initiative can start gathering signatures, that brings the total number of measures circulating throughout the state to a whopping 69. Most campaigns are paying workers about $1 per signature or an hourly rate of $10 to $12.

"Yes, there's a lot of competition out there. On some days when I work, I can see up to five or six different petitioners right out here with us," signature gatherer Alberto Richard said.

But since there's so much competition, the governor and the teachers' group are starting pay at $3 a signature -- a pretty high price. On top of that, they must get nearly a million valid signatures by early May in order to qualify for the November ballot. And as that deadline approaches, pay could jump up to $5 or $6 a signature.

"We're committed. We're committed to doing whatever it takes in order to get this measure qualified." St. Sen. Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento said.

Good government groups, though, hate the idea of paying so much money for signature gathering. Citizen initiatives used to be an all-volunteer campaign. Now critics say the process has been hijacked by well-financed groups, taking $2 to $3 million to get their idea on the ballot.

"If you're an everyday citizen, your ability to access the ballot and put an initiative on there is very, very difficult," Phillip Ung of Cailfornia Common Cause said. "You would need to either get a large special interest backer or a millionaire."

But with the labor market still bad, job seekers say $3 a signature is looking good.

"It's not a lot of money, but it is helpful because when you look at everything that's going on in America with the economy and job situation. it is helpful." job seeker Gerald Mayo said.

Voter fatigue might come in to play, that's when Californians don't want to sign any more petitions because they've signed so many already. There's no doubt that the signature gatherers will play up the fact that the tax hike will help schools.

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