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SACRAMENTO, CA - A taxpayer group trying to block the public financing plan for a new downtown arena is being accused by pro-arena forces of deliberately misleading voters.

Sacramento Taxpayers Opposed to Pork (STOP) needs at least 22,000 valid petition signatures to put the plan to a public vote next June.

Pro-arena advocates say STOP signature gatherers are lying to voters to reach their goal.

"Look how popular the arena is. The only way possible they could get this qualified for the ballot is by giving misinformation," said Joshua Wood of DowntownArena.org, a consortium formed to challenge what it says are underhanded tactics being used by people gathering signatures.

The Website features video of one presumably paid signature gatherer misstating how the financing plan works to a would-be voter.

"They're going to increase taxes because the arena costs a quarter of a billion dollars to build and they want to impose those taxes onto voters," the unidentified woman explains.

The Entertainment and Sports Center Term Sheet calls for the city to leverage parking and other public assets to generate $258 million toward arena construction. It does not indicate a tax increase.

Sacramento City Councilman Steve Hansen, who represents downtown, said he had his own encounter with a signature gatherer who stretched the truth.

"He started the conversation by saying the city is giving away over $300 million to these developers. And I said 'well, I think it's less than that. It's $258 million and the city is going to own the facility.' And he goes, 'oh really?'" Hansen recalled.

Tab Berg, a political consultant working on the STOP campaign, denied that paid signature gatherers are deliberately lying to voters.

He said any misstatements were likely caused by signature gatherers trying to explain a complicated financing plan with just a few key words.

When asked about the woman outside the supermarket asserting the arena would require a tax increase, Bergsuggested the woman was prompted by a pro-arena advocate hoping totrip her up.

"I think the discussion got going a little further probably than we would prefer," Berg allowed.

He said STOP continues to offer trainingto instruct signature gatherers on the facts behind the petition.

And Bergclaimspro-arena forces have dirty tricks of their own.

DowntownArena.org posted a photograph of a hand-drawn sign that was attached to a petition outside a Greenhaven supermarket that purportedly shows one signature gatherer's dishonesty.

"Help Sac City Build Arene (sic)" the sign said.

Berg said the signature gatherer believes a pro-arena advocate taped the sign to the petition board while a second person created a distraction.

"Just to create a scandal," Berg said.

by George Warren, gwarren@news10.net

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