Friday afternoon, the Court of Appeals issued a ruling confirming what everyone — liberals, conservatives, political pundits and the media — knew: That Governor Brown and the California Legislature manipulated the ballot process which gave Proposition 30 preferential treatment in the November election. In its ruling, the Court held that the legislation which put Proposition 30 at the top of the ballot — above all other measures — was unconstitutional.

One might assume that the successful litigation, brought by Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association against the Secretary of State and the Legislature is, at best, a Pyrrhic victory; meaning that we won the battle but lost the war in our efforts to stop a $50 billion tax increase on all Californians. In part, that is regrettably true. With the passage of Proposition 30, Californians now have the highest income tax rates and sales tax rates in American. Worse, we had zero reforms accompanying this horrible measure.

So was it a hollow victory? Hardly. Although the lawsuit challenged the legality of the bill (jammed through the Legislature in record time) which gave Governor Brown’s Proposition 30 priority on the top of the ballot, the Court of Appeal issued a ruling in a far more significant legal issue – what is the meaning of a “budget related bill?”

The bill was AB 1499 and it sought to repeal long-standing tradition and statutory law regarding how ballot measures appear on the ballot. But the second issue in the case has huge significance for taxpayers because of the potential for the tax-and-spend politicians to bypass other constitutional restraints related to the budget process.

In 2010, California voters passed Proposition 25 which, they were told would help break the recurring budget deadlocks by requiring only a simple majority vote to pass a budget, down from the two-thirds requirement that had been the law since 1933. Seeking to use the language of Proposition 25, the legislature slapped a token $1,000 appropriation in AB 1499 and then subsequently argued that the bill only needed a simple majority vote. (Without this scheme, AB 1499 would not have become effective until January 1, 2013, way too late to give Governor Brown the political advantage he was seeking).

But the Court easily saw through this ruse and declared it illegal:

“The narrow, but potentially recurring and important, question we address in these writ proceedings is whether the California Constitution, as amended by the voters in 2010, allows the Legislature to identify blank bills with an assigned number but no substance (so-called “spot bills”1) in the budget bill, pass the budget, and thereafter add content to the placeholder and approve it by a majority vote as urgency legislation. (Cal. Const., art. IV, § 12, subds. (d) & (e).) We conclude that spot bills which remain empty of content at the time the budget is passed are not bills that can be identified within the meaning of article IV, section 12, subdivision (e)(2) of the California Constitution and enacted as urgency legislation by a mere majority vote. (emphasis added).

Will the Court’s ruling put a stop to all the manipulation of the budget process and election rules by the entrenched political establishment in order to benefit the special interests that support them? Of course not. There are several issues unresolved that may require future litigation. But given that this is the second lawsuit won by HJTA against Secretary of State Bowen and the Legislature for manipulating the ballot in a manner contrary to law and the broader public interest of election integrity, we hope they at least think twice before trying it again.

No matter what their political stripe, Californians deserve honesty and integrity in our political institutions, not the sleazy maneuvers revealed in this case. And “sleazy” was a word used not by opponents of Prop 30, but also by George Skelton, well known liberal writer for the Los Angeles Times.

The name of the case is Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association v. Bowen and the Court’s decision can be found here.