Advocates gather signatures to put Children’s Fund on November ballot

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – Wearing bright purple T-shirts and carrying clipboards, a half-dozen or so volunteers are standing near the entrance to the Carnegie Science Center. As families come inside on a recent Monday morning, a clipboard-wielding woman cheerfully asks them if they are registered to vote in Allegheny County.

No, they aren’t registered voters, some say.

No, they live in Washington County, another replies.

They are running late and don’t have time to talk, one couple says.

When one woman responds she is a registered Allegheny County voter, a volunteer explains they are circulating a petition for a ballot initiative, and asks her to sign the petition, explaining what information she needs to fill out.

The volunteers are gathering signatures for a proposed Allegheny County Children’s Fund. They are in the process of gathering what they hope will be more than 40,000 valid signatures to get the proposal on the Nov. 6 general election ballot. They must gather a minimum of just over 35,600 signatures — 10 percent of the total number of votes in Allegheny County in the 2014 gubernatorial election — from registered voters for the issue to go before voters.

Lindsay Cashman, advocacy and public policy director at PUMP, an organization that aims to mobilize young people, was gathering signatures last week at the Science Center and said she believes the campaign is on track to get enough valid signatures.

If approved, the fund would give additional money to early childhood education, after-school programs and nutritious meals for Allegheny County kids.

Proponents estimate that a property tax increase of an additional one-quarter mill tax of $25 annually on each $100,000 of a home’s assessed value would raise $18 million to $19 million every year to aid children’s programs.

Critics, such as Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, have said they disagree with funding the programs via a property tax increase.

Advocates plan to gather more signatures this month, carrying their clipboards everywhere from the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, to the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium, to concerts and back-to-school events. They have until Aug. 7.

The measure is backed by a number of local advocacy and children’s groups. Among the campaign’s steering committee are Allies for Children, Allegheny Partners for Out-of-School Time, the Human Services Center Corporation, The Mentoring Partnership, Pressley Ridge, PUMP, Trying Together, United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania, YWCA Greater Pittsburgh, and Higher Achievement.

At another event last week, purple-shirted signature gatherers were in a parking lot at The Human Services Center Corporation in Turtle Creek. As children were picked up from their after-school program, a WISH 99.7 FM truck handed out ice cream and chips.

“We’re collecting signatures today to put the Children’s Fund on the ballot for November,” a volunteer explained to parents.

Mattie Zachery of Braddock signed a petition after picking up two of her great-grandchildren, ages 5 and 7, from an after-school program.

“I just think it’s good that they’re … thinking about the kids,” she said.

Read the full story here.