September 29, 2010

IRS private letter ruling advises university’s that its tuition reduction plan available certain employees and their dependents is non-discriminatory

Tuition reduction plans

There may be State Constitution issues to be considered and resolved with respect to providing such a benefit to staff members of public universities and colleges in the SUNY system and their dependents. For example, would granting such a type of benefit constitute an unconstitutional gift of public monies within the meaning of Article VII, §8 of the State Constitution?

Article VII, §8.1, in pertinent part, provides: “The money of the state shall not be given or loaned to or in aid of any private corporation or association, or private undertaking; nor shall the credit of the state be given or loaned to or in aid of any individual, or public or private corporation or association, or private undertaking, but the foregoing provisions shall not apply to any fund or property now held or which may hereafter be held by the state for educational, mental health or mental retardation purposes.”

New York State courts have ruled on a number of cases involving claims that the challenged action constituted an unconstitutional gift of public monies or property including:

1. Gagliardo v Dinkins, 89 N.Y.2d 62. Here the Court of Appeals said that “... the constitutional prohibition on gifts of public funds is not necessarily subject to statutory definitions of terms or conditions of employment for purposes of governing labor-management relations between civil service employees and public or governmental employers under the Taylor Law.”

2. Garber v Board of Trustees of State Univ. of N.Y at Stony Brook, 38 AD3d 833. Garber contended that Stony Brook contract with a private developer for construction of a hotel on the SUNY Stony Brook campus was "illegal" and constituted an unconstitutional gift of State property. The Appellate Division held that "Supreme Court correctly determined, upon review of the documents submitted by the parties, that the proposed hotel construction proceeded in accordance with specific enabling legislation enacted by the Legislature" (see the Laws of 1986, Chapter 830 and the Laws of 1989, Chapter 200).

3. Rampello v. East Irondequoit Cent. School Dist. 236 A.D.2d 797. The Appellate Division found that prior to the employee’s retirement the school district had no obligation under its collective bargaining agreement with the Association of East Irondequoit Administrators to make cash payments for unused accumulated sick days upon an employee's retirement. Accordingly, as the Board did not authorize payment for sick days prior to their accumulation, "there was no legal obligation supporting the retirement incentive and the payment to the employee constituted an unconstitutional gift of public funds."

4. Matter of Mahon v Board of Educ., 171 NY 263. The Court of Appeals ruled that the granting of pension benefits to teachers who had retired before the establishment of a pension system was an unconstitutional gift of public funds.

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