BU, Northeastern, Wellesley sue state for tax credits

Boston University is one of three Boston-area schools suing the Massachusetts Department of Revenue for refusal to issue tax credits that these universities claim they are owed for completing environmental cleanup work on and around their campuses.

The suit, filed in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Superior Court on August 18, alleges that under the Brownfields Tax Incentive – which grants property owners tax deductions for rehabilitating old, contaminated commercial and industrial properties left by previous owners – BU, Wellesley College and Northeastern University are entitled to just over $17 million.

“Commonwealth Avenue was the original auto mile. There were car dealerships, gas stations and auto bodies,” said BU spokesman Colin Riley. “There was a lot of ground contamination on Commonwealth Avenue on properties that we ended up owning. Certainly post-1970s, there was a lot of clean up related to that, and we incurred a lot of expenses.”

The lawsuit alleges the DOR has denied ever receiving applications from the three schools and has unlawfully taken the position that such applicants will no longer qualify for these tax credits because they were filed before June 2006, the date the tax incentive program was put in place.

“Plaintiffs are aware of at least eight instances in which the Department granted credits to non-profit corporations for remediation costs incurred prior to June 24, 2006,” the lawsuit states. “Upon information and belief, the Department has issued numerous similar credits to non-profits for remediation costs incurred prior to June 24, 2006, and has permitted the transfer of such credits.”

The Massachusetts DOR did not respond to requests for comment on the lawsuit.

Wellesley, Northeastern and BU are filing the lawsuit jointly and are represented by Attorney Daryl Lapp, Riley said.

“This is a tax credit that the legislature supported and then later amended to allow nonprofits to be eligible to receive the credit,” Riley said. “When the Legislature created this tax credit and amended it to allow nonprofits to be eligible to receive the credits, we applied for them, were denied. Then, we appealed it and were denied.”

Several students said they appreciate BU’s efforts to renew environmentally harmful properties and support the university’s requests for tax credit.

Amanda Keller, a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences, said she was proud to attend an environmentally conscious school.

“I’m a transfer sophomore and last year I went to Colorado College, which is the most environmentally friendly school in the country,” she said. “I get the sentiment of,  ‘Where does this money go?’ but it’s good that BU has made these efforts anyway. It will bring students who want to live in a sustainable environment to BU, even if the school doesn’t get the money.”

CAS junior Gregory Diliberto said he viewed BU as committed to improving the environment and did not agree with the DOR’s stance toward the university’s requests for a tax refund.

“It’s pretty shocking that we would be denied any type of funds,” he said. “I’m proud that my school is sustainable where a lot of other schools don’t really care or don’t even make an effort.”

Samantha Watts, a junior in CAS, said she was disappointed by the DOR’s refusal to grant BU a tax refund given the school’s broad efforts to create a sustainable campus.

“I’ve been somewhat environmentally conscious my whole life. Even if you weren’t like that before college, it is just so in your face here that it encourages people to do the right thing,” she said. “Even when I visit my friends at other schools, I don’t even see recycling bins around or anything, which is the very basics of being sustainable. They just make it very easy to be good about being sustainable at BU.”

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