Molly Munger is pushing an initiative on the November ballot that would… (Rich Pedroncelli, Associated…)
SACRAMENTO — A judge handed Gov. Jerry Brown a key victory Monday, clearing the way for the governor's tax initiative to appear first among the propositions on the November ballot, possibly increasing its chances of passing.
Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Michael P. Kenny ruled against Molly Munger, proponent of a tax proposal that rivals Brown's. Munger contended in a lawsuit that Los Angeles County election officials and state legislators violated California law to make the governor's plan first among the 11 fall ballot measures.
Munger's attorneys asserted that election workers in Los Angeles County mishandled the tallying of signed petitions for the dueling initiatives, finishing work on Brown's before Munger's even though her campaign turned in signatures to the registrar's office more than a week before the governor submitted his.
Kenny rejected that claim, saying election officials were under no obligation to count Munger's signatures first and that her lawyers were asking him to "essentially micromanage the registrar's office."
Speaking to reporters in Oakland on Monday afternoon, Brown cheered the ruling. He called Munger's suit "frivolous" and an example of "old-style politics, where you try to take $800-an-hour lawyers and try to bully people."
Munger campaign spokesman Nathan Ballard said they would not appeal Kenny's ruling, but the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn. joined the case Monday and asked the 3rd District Court of Appeal to hear it.
The Democrats who dominate the Legislature gave a boost last month to Brown's bid to temporarily raise levies on sales and upper incomes to balance the budget. They passed a bill that moved proposed constitutional amendments such as his ahead of all other measures on the ballot.
They did so as part of the budget package, making the change effective immediately after being signed by the governor, rather than on Jan.1 like most bills. The lawmakers also moved their own $11.1-billion water bond measure off the November ballot, eliminating another Sacramento call for more money. Brown signed that measure Monday.
Typically, initiatives appear before voters in the order in which the state certifies them as counties verify and tally the petition signatures. High placement can improve a measure's chances of passing, election experts say, because voters can lose interest as they make their way down a list of complex proposals. Brown's initiative, Proposition 30, will be at the top of the list in November.
Munger, who is pushing a broad income-tax hike to raise money for schools, argued in her lawsuit that legislators overstepped their authority when they reshuffled the ballot order as part of the budget proceedings, calling the maneuver "an abuse of the political process and legislative power." But her attorneys did not press that point in court Monday, and Kenny sidestepped the question in his ruling.
Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn., said his group would specifically challenge lawmakers' ability to fast-track policy matters by wrapping them into the budget.
"We are reaping what has happened with one-party, dictatorial rule in the state of California," he said. "I don't think it's going to help the governor in the passage of his tax-increase proposal."
Times staff writer Chris Megerian contributed to this report from Oakland.