A Sacramento judge on Friday halted Gov. Jerry Brown's drive to place his tax initiative atop the November ballot as the court examines recent signature counting and a new law intended to give his measure a leg up.
Under the order from Sacramento Superior Court Judge Timothy Frawley, Secretary of State Debra Bowen must wait until after a July 9 hearing to set the ballot numbers rather than on Monday as she had planned.
The campaign for a rival income tax initiative, funded by attorney Molly Munger, filed suit Thursday to prevent Brown's measure from appearing on the ballot ahead of its own.
"This will give us a chance to determine why the rules were changed in the middle of the game," said Nathan Ballard, spokesman for Munger's "Our Children, Our Future" initiative.
The campaign believes its initiative should have qualified ahead of Brown's because it submitted signatures before the governor did and had fewer to count. In particular, Munger attorney Grant Davis-Denny pointed to Los Angeles and Alameda counties as examples where his campaign's signatures should have been verified first but were not.
Qualifying order typically determines where initiatives appear on the ballot. But Brown and lawmakers tweaked that law this week with a budget bill that could move the governor's initiative to the top despite its eleventh-hour qualification. The Munger campaign alleges the bill was illegally cast as budget legislation, which allows it to be in effect in November rather than wait until the next election.
Dan Newman, a spokesman for the Brown tax campaign, said in an email, "We're pleased the court put this on a fast-track and confident it will be resolved quickly so we can move forward to protect schools and balance the budget."
Ross C. Moody, a deputy attorney general representing the secretary of state's office, told the court that any delay in the election could have a "cascading effect" that causes problems in election preparations, particularly with a ballot that has 12 statewide measures at the moment.
Moody said the Munger campaign had not proved that there were problems in Los Angeles and Alameda counties. He also noted that various election groups were eager to start reaching out to voters.
"Everyone is waiting to get their number on Monday so that they can order their lawn signs, they can start their ground game," Moody said.
The Munger lawsuit had support Friday from an unlikely corner. Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, was on hand with veteran campaign attorney Charles Bell as a "potential intervenor."
Coupal said his group will likely back Munger's argument that lawmakers manipulated the process by writing an election change into a budget bill.
Under Assembly Bill 1499, the legislation in question, Brown's initiative would rise to the very top of the ballot if lawmakers delay an $11 billion water bond that for now has the first position. Senate Democrats said they plan to vote Monday on a two-thirds vote bill that would move the water bond to the 2014 ballot.
However, they did not mention that Democrats have drafted a separate measure, Assembly Bill 1503, that would do the same thing with only a majority vote. As with AB 1499, Democrats wrote that as a budget bill by inserting a $1,000 expenditure for the secretary of state's office.
The Legislature's power to insert such provisions into budget bills could be curtailed by the Munger court case. Lawmakers had their own attorney on the defense side for that reason Friday.