California appeals court to review ballot change that put Jerry Brown's measure on top

Published: Wednesday, Jul. 11, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 3A
Last Modified: Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013 - 8:16 pm

A California appellate court will examine whether Democratic lawmakers violated the state constitution by using a majority-vote budget bill to move Gov. Jerry Brown's tax initiative to the top of the November ballot.

A day after Secretary of State Debra Bowen assigned numbers to 11 November ballot measures, the 3rd District Court of Appeals asked Bowen and lawmakers to show by July 30 why those numbers should stand in response to a lawsuit filed by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. The court, however, did not ask Bowen to rescind those numbers for now.

Brown and lawmakers enacted Assembly Bill 1499 last month as part of the budget package. The majority-vote legislation gives priority in the ballot order to signature-based constitutional amendments over other initiatives, ultimately resulting in Brown's tax proposal landing the top spot Monday as Proposition 30. Political experts believe that having a higher ballot position is beneficial, especially on a crowded ballot such as November's.

"This is a reflection of what happens when those in political power try to manipulate the political process," said association President Jon Coupal, part of the coalition opposing Brown's tax initiative. "We now have confusion because people are going to want to know whether the numbers are going to stay in place or not."

The secretary of state's office and Brown survived a different legal challenge Monday when a Sacramento judge ruled against civil rights attorney Molly Munger, who alleged that election officials had mistakenly qualified Brown's initiative before hers. That case focused mostly on election procedures.

But Coupal's group argues that state leaders illegally slipped a ballot change into budget legislation, which has the rare privilege of taking effect immediately on a majority vote. The association argues that the change has nothing to do with carrying out provisions of the $91.3 billion general fund budget that Brown signed.

Attorneys for the Legislature argued last week in a court filing that lawmakers have unique authority to define what counts as a budget bill. They also said that the bill's $1,000 expenditure was enough to qualify as an appropriation under the constitution.

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Read more articles by Kevin Yamamura

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