Tax-initiative push: Premium pay for signatures


You've seen campaign workers outside stores asking you to sign their petitions. Now some of them might be more eager than usual due to a new pay incentive.

Now that Governor Jerry Brown's and the California Federation of Teachers' new compromise tax initiative can start gathering signatures, that brings the total number of different measures circulating throughout the state to a whopping 69.

Most campaigns are paying workers about $1 per signature they get, or an hourly rate of $10 to $12.

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

But since there's so much competition, the governor and teachers group are starting pay at $3 per 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 per signature.

"We're committed. We're committed to doing whatever it takes in order to get this measure qualified," said state Senate President Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento).

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 high-jacked by well-financed groups, spending $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. You would need to either get a large special-interest backer or a millionaire," said Phillip Ung, California Common Cause.

But with the labor market still bad, job-seekers say $3 per 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," said Gerald Mayo, who's looking for a job.

Voter fatigue might come into play. That's when Californians won't sign any more petitions because they've signed so many already. No doubt that the signature-gatherers will play up the fact that the tax hike will help schools.

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