Gov. Jerry Brown's tax initiative landed the top position on November's ballot after surviving a legal challenge Monday, leaving rival tax measures buried near the bottom of the 11-question slate.
Secretary of State Debra Bowen designated Brown's initiative as Proposition 30, while an income tax hike backed by attorney Molly Munger will appear as Proposition 38. A $1 billion corporate tax change will be Proposition 39.
Brown must still survive a challenge filed late Monday by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, which alleges that Democratic lawmakers and the Democratic governor illegally enacted majority-vote budget legislation last month that moved his initiative ahead of others.
But the governor cleared a significant legal hurdle Monday morning when Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael P. Kenny rejected arguments made by Munger's attorneys that her "Our Children, Our Future" initiative deserved higher billing.
Munger's attorneys pointed out that she submitted signatures earlier and needed fewer to be verified. They blamed Los Angeles County for slow processing.
But Kenny determined Monday that Los Angeles election officials acted within the law when they informed the secretary of state's office that different tax measures had simultaneously qualified for the ballot last month, including Brown's and Munger's.
"The governor's initiative leapfrogged above ours, which gave his initiative an unfair advantage," said Nathan Ballard, spokesman for the Munger initiative. "Look, the deck may be stacked against us, but we've got a good ballot measure here that's actually going to help California schools."
The order in which initiatives qualify generally determines where they appear on the ballot, and political experts believe that measures slated higher perform better. Bowen said last month that Brown's measure was ninth to qualify for November, while Munger's was 10th.
Munger's campaign did not appeal. But the Jarvis group submitted its own challenge with the Sacramento-based 3rd District Court of Appeal on Monday afternoon.
The group is focused on a different argument that newly enacted Assembly Bill 1499 violates the constitution by changing the ballot order through a majority-vote budget bill. The legislation immediately moves signature-based constitutional amendments ahead of other initiatives that change state law but not the constitution, with the end result being that Brown's measure tops the ballot. By using budget legislation, Democrats were able to change the ballot priority on an expedited schedule that normally would require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature.
"I think the broader issue here is of the electoral process, and this bill was designed to give one specific measure preference on the ballot," said Jarvis President Jon Coupal, part of a coalition fighting Brown's tax initiative. "I think voters are going to react very negatively to that, no matter how one views additional tax hikes."
If the Jarvis suit proceeds, it could have implications beyond the November ballot by potentially narrowing the types of changes that state leaders can pass on a majority vote.
Though Bowen issued ballot numbers Monday, Coupal said he believes the appellate court could still force her to reassign them.
Brown tax initiative spokesman Dan Newman responded in an email, "Anti-education extremists will do everything possible to defeat this initiative, but the court has spoken and voters are ready to do the right thing for our schools, public safety and budget."