(updated with correction)
California Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. is intervening in several court cases that ultimately will be decided by the California Supreme Court, arguing that public worker pension benefits in the state can be reduced during employment.
If the court agrees with the governor, it would mark a revolutionary change from a ruling it made more than 60 years ago that pension benefits are guaranteed from date of hire.
Three cases in California are not only being watched closely in the state, but also across the U.S., because most states protect the pension benefits of public-sector workers. In California and more than a dozen other states including New York, Illinois and Pennsylvania, courts have upheld — or it is written into the state constitution — that accrued and future pension benefits are guaranteed.
A spokesman for Mr. Brown declined to say why the governor's office decided to intervene in two of the cases in November and December, through a legal brief in one case and oral arguments in the second.
Until the November legal brief, the matter was being handled by the California attorney general's office, and the governor had not made a statement on various challenges by public employee unions to 2013 pension reform law that he backed.
That law reduced pension benefits for future employees, which is not being challenged. But it also affected some current employees because it eliminated what the governor considered pension spiking, using long-term unused vacation time or on-call pay to enhance an employee's final salary, the benchmark used for determining their benefit. It also eliminated buying pension credits for years not worked. Those provisions are the subjects of the three court cases.
Statements in the legal brief by Rei Onishi, the governor's deputy legal affairs secretary, who was moved from the attorney general's office, support the governor's pension reform law. But in a significant change in the state's position, Mr. Onishi also takes a broader view, supporting two recent California appellate court rulings that public-sector workers are only entitled to a "reasonable" pension benefit — not an ironclad guarantee of set benefits.