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Judge clears Calif. governor's tax for top billing

Posted: July 9, 2012 2:30 p.m.
Updated: July 9, 2012 2:30 p.m.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A judge cleared Gov. Jerry Brown's tax initiative for top billing on the November ballot by rejecting a challenge from a competing tax campaign Monday.

Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny denied a request from the Our Children, Our Future campaign to stop the secretary of state from placing the Democratic governor's tax measure first.

Attorneys for the campaign argued that the initiative should have qualified first because proponents had turned in their signatures earlier than Brown's campaign. Kenny ruled that elections officials in Los Angeles County did not act improperly in certifying both measures at the same time.

Our Children, Our Future, funded by wealthy Los Angeles civil rights attorney Molly Munger, decided not to appeal Monday's ruling.

"We're moving on," spokesman Nathan Ballard said in a statement. "No matter where we end up on the ballot, the fact remains that our measure will reboot California's public schools by sending $10 billion a year into a separate trust fund for education that can't be touched by the governor or the Legislature."

Jon Coupal, president of the anti-tax Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, said his group is considering filing its own challenge.

Coupal said the Our Children, Our Future campaign focused on procedural requirements for county election offices to certify a measure, not whether state lawmakers overstepped their authority in pushing Brown's tax initiative to the top of the ballot.

"From our perspective the underlying constitutional issues are far more important and that is the ability of the Legislature to pervert the election process," Coupal said. "And that's what's at issue here."

Democratic lawmakers gave Brown an edge by passing a bill that moved bond measures and constitutional amendments such as Brown's to the top of the ballot. That's because California voters will be bombarded with a total of 11 questions on the November ballot.

Besides raising their taxes, voters will be asked about ending executions, limiting lifetime sentences for career criminals and restricting political contributions.

Brown's campaign spokesman, Dan Newman, urged challengers to cease their "scorched-earth attack on the electoral process" and allow voters to decide this fall.

Brown's plan would raise the state sales tax and income tax for incomes over $250,000 a year, with the money going to the state budget, schools and public safety. His tax initiative will raise an estimated $8.5 billion in this fiscal year.

Munger's competing plan would raise income taxes for nearly all Californians, with most of the money going to public schools.

A recent Field Poll found more support for Brown's tax initiative with 54 percent in favor and 38 percent opposed. Voters were evenly split at 46 percent on Munger's initiative.

Monday's hearing focused on whether the Los Angeles County registrar should have qualified Munger's initiative ahead of Brown's tax measure. The judge also questioned why the county wasn't a party to the challenge.

Munger's attorney, Bradley Phillips, said the secretary of state is responsible for making sure counties follow signature qualification rules.

Kenny said he saw no error by election officials and declined to dictate how they should run their offices. At one point, the judge asked Phillips, "Aren't you asking me to essentially micromanage the registrar's office?"


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