If the phone rings in the next week or so and it’s Americans for Prosperity calling, don’t hang up.

They don’t want your money. They want you to hang on to it. More of it, in fact.

The grassroots watchdog group, like a lot of us taxpayers, is weary of “the governor and Legislature treating California taxpayers as their own personal ATM machine” as a means to solve the current budget crisis.

The AFP showed up in Bakersfield this week to drive the point home, propping up its trademark visual aid — a giant, inflatable ATM machine — in front of the bankrupt-and-closing Mervyn’s department store on California Avenue.

This wasn’t AFP’s first visit to Bakersfield, but the group returned this week to show its ardent opposition to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s and the Legislature’s most recent proposals to tax the already-taxed-to-the-max people of California.

Schwarzenegger’s proposal to close the state’s budget deficit called for $4.4 billion in tax hikes, along with $4.5 billion in spending cuts. The governor’s plan included a three-year, 1-cent jump in state sales tax, a sin tax of a nickel a drink and, just when you thought it was safe to get back in the car, a 10 percent tax on oil pumped in California.

In special session, Democrats did the governor one better, proposing to bring back and triple the vehicle license fee Schwarzenegger dumped when he took office. In the end, lawmakers couldn’t seal the deal, with Republicans saying no thanks to higher taxes.

The governor says he plans to call another special session once newly elected lawmakers are sworn in.

When he does, AFP wants those new legislators to know exactly how Mr. and Mrs. Taxpayer feel about the proposed hikes, which is why you may be called one night next week and asked to participate in a virtual town hall.

The organization will randomly call 25,000 to 50,000 local homes, looking for folks with ideas on how to solve the budget crisis. I may be reaching here, but I’m guessing ideas not included will be: a) hitting already strapped taxpayers with more taxes and b) spending money we don’t have.

Those participating in the virtual town hall will be asked to share their comments and ideas about the budget crisis, which will then be forwarded via e-mail and voice mail to the governor and Legislature, says AFP spokeswoman Jennifer Kerns.

“We’ve had a lot of people suggest we just cut everything 5 or 10 percent across the board,” Kerns says. “A lot of people talk about what they’ve done in their own households to cut costs — the common sense thing really comes through at these town halls.”

Common sense things, like cutting waste before raising taxes and living within our means.

Gov. Schwarzenegger and the Legislature have proposed some deep cuts, to be sure. But that gets us only halfway home and higher taxes will only force folks to hold tighter to pockets and purse strings in a time we need to grow our economy, not shrink it.

If you get a call next week, stay on the line and tell ’em so.

These are Marylee Shrider’s opinions, not necessarily The Californian’s. Call her at 395-7474 or write mshrider@bakersfield.com.