After Gov. Jerry Brown and Democratic lawmakers enacted legislation that should push the governor's tax initiative atop the November ballot, a rival campaign filed suit Thursday to block his measure from taking first position and appearing ahead of its own income tax proposal.
Brown signed Assembly Bill 1499 late Wednesday to redefine how the Secretary of State's Office orders ballot measures, having the likely effect of pushing Brown's tax plan to the first position.
A rival campaign to raise income taxes on all but the poorest Californians for education filed suit against Secretary of State Debra Bowen to block AB 1499 from taking effect. The suit also claims that the competing initiative by attorney Molly Munger deserves a higher placement on the ballot because its campaign submitted signatures before Brown did.
Under AB 1499, that initiative would appear near the bottom of the ballot as a statutory change that made the ballot near the end of qualifying season -- albeit on the same day as Brown's. The rival initiative has been financed by attorney Molly Munger.
"This attempt to change the rules in the middle of the game is a manipulation of the political process, and it does not qualify as a budget-related bill," said Nate Ballard, Munger's spokesman.
Political experts believe that gaining the top spot should be advantageous on a cluttered ballot where 11 proposals are expected to appear, assuming lawmakers delay a water bond. Under previous practice, Brown's initiative would likely have appeared eighth rather than first.
The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, which is part of an anti-tax coalition fighting Brown's initiative, is also exploring its legal options. HJTA President Jon Coupal said he believes legislators violated the law by sticking the ballot-order provisions into a budget "trailer" bill.
As a budget-related bill, AB 1499 had at least two advantages: It needed only a majority vote, and it takes effect immediately. To qualify AB 1499 as a budget bill, lawmakers inserted a $1,000 appropriation for the Secretary of State's Office for implementation.
"It's clearly not budget-related," Coupal said. "I think it doesn't even pass the ha-ha test. It's such a transparent abuse of the process.
In Wednesday's floor session, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said AB 1499 was only a "clarifying" measure because the law is silent on where initiative constitutional amendments should appear on the ballot. Recent practice has been to list all initiatives in the order they qualify, but Steinberg said constitutional amendments should take precedence.
"The governor's tax measure is the most important measure on the ballot, you better believe it," Steinberg said. "Because it is the opportunity to end this deficit once and for all, and to do so without cutting another multibillion dollars from education and higher education. I proudly stand by this bill."
This post was updated at 5 p.m.on June 27 with details of the suit and 10:25 a.m. on June 28 to restore the full identification of Nate Ballard, Munger's spokesman.