After Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation that would likely put his tax initiative atop the November ballot, a rival tax campaign filed suit Thursday to block his measure from taking first place.
The competing income tax campaign, financed by attorney Molly Munger, wants Brown's measure to appear below its own initiative this fall, citing problems in the qualifying process that allowed Brown to jump ahead.
The suit also says Brown and lawmakers illegally enacted Assembly Bill 1499, which gave the governor his advantage, as a budget bill.
"This bill, however, was in no way, shape or form 'related to the budget,' " the lawsuit against the secretary of state's office says, calling it "an abuse of the political process and legislative power."
Absent a court order, the office is planning to number ballot measures within the next few days, according to spokeswoman Shannan Velayas.
Brown's initiative would raise the sales tax by a quarter-cent on the dollar and increase income taxes starting with individuals making at least $250,000.
Munger's initiative would raise income taxes on a sliding scale on all but the poorest Californians. Both direct money to schools, but Brown's would have the effect of devoting more toward general fund deficit relief.
The suit by Brown's rival alleges that Los Angeles and Alameda counties delayed their signature verification, which allowed the Democratic governor to qualify for the ballot earlier despite turning in petitions at a later date. Initiatives have historically been listed in order of qualification.
Political experts believe gaining the top spot should be advantageous on a cluttered ballot, where 11 proposals are expected to appear, assuming lawmakers delay a water bond.
The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, part of an anti-tax coalition fighting Brown's initiative, is also exploring its legal options, according to the group's president, Jon Coupal.
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 a "clarifying" measure because the law is silent on where initiative constitutional amendments should appear on the ballot. 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, calling it a way to end the deficit without further cuts to education.