In a court case that could define how broadly lawmakers can use their majority-vote powers, the California Legislature asserted this week that it has the authority to determine for itself whether certain bills are budget-related and thus qualify for a lower vote threshold.
Gov. Jerry Brown last week signed urgency legislation designed to move his tax initiative to the top of the November ballot even though it was among the last to qualify. Lawmakers sent Assembly Bill 1499 to Brown on a majority vote after they drafted it as a special budget bill, which allows it to take effect immediately.
But civil rights attorney Molly Munger, who has a rival tax initiative on the November ballot, alleges in a lawsuit that lawmakers manipulated the constitution by claiming it as a budget bill. If AB 1499 were not budget related, lawmakers would have needed a two-thirds vote to have it take effect in time for the November election.
The Legislature's attorneys -- who include the Legislative Counsel and private attorney Fredric D. Woocher -- filed an argument Thursday in defense of AB 1499. They said the Legislature satisfied the constitution by including a $1,000 appropriation and by declaring the measure was a budget bill.
"Because AB 1499 indisputably contains an appropriation and, equally indisputably, was explicitly identified by the Legislature in the budget bill as 'related to the budget,' it meets the only criteria that are pertinent under the California Constitution," the lawyers wrote.
In an argument similar to one used to protect legislative pay against the state controller's discretion, the Legislature also asserted that it has the constitutional authority to determine for itself whether bills are related to the budget because writing the budget is "a quintessential legislative function."
The attorneys finally argued that because AB 1499 prioritizes bonds and constitutional amendments, and such measures impact the state's fiscal situation, the bill should be considered budget legislation.
Munger officially received help Friday from the anti-tax Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief arguing against the Legislature's designation of AB 1499 as a budget bill. The Jarvis group argued that the $1,000 was not an appropriation, that the substance of AB 1499 is not related to the budget, and that the Legislature circumvented the two-thirds requirement for bills intended to take effect immediately.
Lawyers for Munger asked Sacramento Superior Court to delay its hearing to July 18 because they said the Los Angeles County registrar had refused to provide documents or sufficiently answer questions. But an official for the court said the hearing remains scheduled for Monday.