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SMART opponents paying signature gatherers in repeal effort

Opponents of Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit's plans are recruiting paid signature-gatherers in a last-ditch effort to get a measure on the November ballot to overturn the commute line's sales tax.

RepealSMART organizers also said Thursday they are intent on gathering 40,000 signatures by Jan. 27 to force SMART directors to set the election.

"We would rather the money go to people locally than spend the money to fight this in court," said Clay Mitchell of Windsor, co-chairman of the repeal effort.

SMART's opponents believe that only 15,000 signatures are necessary to qualify the measure, using a threshold set by Proposition 218, a measure passed by voters in 1996 that set up an initiative process to overturn existing taxes.

SMART officials, however, are relying on the Secretary of State's advice to follow a state election law that uses a different formula, which would require 39,000 signatures.

Organizers of the repeal campaign believe they will reach the 15,000 mark, Mitchell said, but by paying $1 per signature may possibly collect 40,000 signatures, giving SMART no choice but to set the election.

RepealSMART has relied on 250 volunteers to circulate petitions since late September. Mitchell said they are still trying to determine how many signatures they have gathered so far.

Supporters of SMART on Thursday called it a sign of desperation and a lack of community support for the repeal campaign.

"It is a sign of urgency and unease that they will not make their goal," said Jack Swearengen, chairman of Friends of SMART and of a broader group, the SMART Riders Coalition, made up of business, labor and transportation advocates.

RepealSMART is circulating petitions in an effort to place a measure on the November ballot to repeal the quarter-cent sales tax, which voters approved in Sonoma and Marin counties by 70 percent in November 2008.

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