Among the most valuable autographs from living persons are those from the reclusive “moonwalker” Neil Armstrong, Tiger Woods — who signs very few — and Sir Paul McCartney. But you may be surprised to learn that yours, too, is likely worth money. If you are a California voter, your autograph is worth $3, $4 or even more to those folks standing outside of supermarkets asking for signatures to put initiatives on the ballot.

At the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, we are strong supporters of direct democracy — the powers of initiative, referendum and recall. These powers were given to us by the founders of the original progressive movement — not to be confused with the far left “progressives” of today. The true progressives, including Hiram Johnson who served as California’s governor from 1911 to 1917, knew that these powers would serve as a strong check against special interest influence in politics.

Nonetheless, like any political process, the power of initiative can be abused. As we know, the initiative process allows citizens to put measures before voters for their final say. We also understand that because it takes nearly a million signatures for a measure to qualify, it is sometimes necessary to augment volunteer efforts by providing incentive compensation to professional gatherers. However, it is important to note most of those soliciting your signature for tax increases are paid professionals. These independent contractors work with little or no direct supervision, and as a result, they are free to promote measures in any way they see fit.

Right now, throughout California, voters are being asked to sign petitions to guarantee adequate funding for education and public safety. Since, for most people, this description is about as controversial as being asked to sign a petition that supports everyone having a “nice day,” the professionals are doing a brisk business and assuring themselves of a lucrative payday.

What is not being told to many who are volunteering their autographs is that if the measure qualifies for the ballot and passes, their taxes will go up. And if Jerry Brown and the megabuck public employee unions behind this measure promote it with the same misleading language as is being used by signature gatherers, there is a good chance it will be approved.

No matter what they call it, the Brown tax is not about education or public safety. The revenue raised from the initiative would go into California’s General Fund, where decisions on how to spend it would be made by the usual suspects in Sacramento. Indeed, given that the retirement funds for state workers are so far underwater they are being viewed by James Cameron in his deep sea submarine, odds are high that new tax revenue will go directly to generous pension benefits.

This is why it is so important for voters to be fully informed now and avoid being fooled into supporting a tax increase that is not about California students and public safety, but is actually a bait and switch scheme to fund the enormous commitments Sacramento politicians have made to the public employee unions that represent the highest paid government workers in all 50 states.

Californians don’t have to fall victim to this misleading campaign. Voters have a right to ask the signature gatherers, “Does this measure increase taxes? And by how much?” To help combat the misinformation on the streets, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association’s No New Taxes Committee has posted a list of questions to ask the professional gatherers when you are solicited. (Go to www.HJTA.org and click on the red banner on the home page that says “Don’t Sign the Petition!”) After voters have more information, we are confident that most will want to “just say no” to signature gatherers working to increase taxes.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association -– California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.

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