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Jerry Brown is on the phone. He wants you to open your mail.

April 6, 2012 | 11:00 am

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In an unusual step, the California Democratic Party is funding a robo-call of Gov. Jerry Brown asking voters to sign petitions it's mailing them to place the governor's tax initiative on the November ballot.

Brown is scrambling to meet a May deadline to gather nearly 1 million signatures to ensure the measure ends up on the ballot. He tweaked it last month in a deal with liberal groups that agreed to shelve a more-popular tax on millionaires, but that required him to restart the cumbersome signature-gathering process.

It is exceedingly expensive and logistically challenging to gather the signatures in such a narrow window. And campaign money is tight this year -- the unions that are helping Brown also must hoard their money for an expected multimillion-dollar campaign against a November initiative that would prevent them from using member dues for political activity in the future.

"There's about a month to gather the signatures," said Tenoch Flores, a spokesman for the state Democratic Party. "So everyone -- the governor, allies, the party -- is doing what they can."

Earlier this week, Brown's political advisor announced the governor was ending the gathering of signatures on his initial measure because he was confident he'd gather enough to get the compromise on.

The calls to more than 1 million households began Thursday, and the mailers are expected to arrive Friday, Flores said. They urge recipients to "sign up to save our schools," and, even though Brown rejected a tax on millionaires as imprudent, contend his initiative will ensure "millionaires will pay their fair share."

In the call, the governor says:  "I'm calling because California really needs our help. We have to save our schools and stop even deeper cuts to public safety." He urges voters to sign and return the petitions they will receive in the mail.

Brown's latest proposal would raise the sales tax by one-quarter cent and also increase levies on high earners to raise about $6 billion to close the state's perennial budget deficit. It also includes language to lock in funding for local law enforcement. If it doesn't pass, Brown proposes slashing school funding by nearly $5 billion.

RELATED:

Brown confident he will get tax on ballot

Gov. Jerry Brown's new tax has strong support, poll finds

Jerry Brown defends campaign claim that his tax is on millionaires

-- Anthony York and Nicholas Riccardi

Photo: Gov. Jerry Brown addresses a luncheon in Fresno last year. Photo Credit: Eric Paul Zamora/The Fresno Bee

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