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SJC: Municipalities do not have to cover state’s share of Quinn

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The Supreme Judicial Court ruled today that cities and towns do not have to cover the state’s share of benefits under the Police Career Incentive Pay Program, known as the Quinn Bill.

“The statute in the end requires only that municipalities pay one-half the amounts listed in the payment provision, plus any amount actually received from the Commonwealth,’’ Justice Francis Spina wrote for the court, which reached a unanimous decision. “Municipalities may agree to pay more, but the statute does not require it.’’

In the case, which the SJC heard on Nov. 8, the city of Boston was sued by its police union, which claimed that officers are entitled to their full incentive payments, regardless of whether the state funds its 50 percent share of the program. The union pleaded its case despite the fact that its collective bargaining agreement, which it willingly signed, specifies that the city is not responsible for the state’s share.

The 40-year-old Quinn program was created as an incentive for police officers to earn degrees in the fields of criminal justice and law enforcement. The statute that created the local-option program called for the state to reimburse participating municipalities in the next fiscal year for 50 percent of the salary bonuses. The state, however, began drastically reducing its support for the program in fiscal 2010 and eliminated funding for it this year.

Most of the 254 communities that adopted the Quinn Bill (M.G.L. Ch. 41, Sec. 108L) never anticipated that the state would renege on its share and didn’t address payment responsibilities in their collective bargaining agreements. A handful of communities, however, included protective language in their contracts.

The police contracts in Boston clearly state that the city is only responsible for its 50 percent share of Quinn payments, regardless of the level of state funding.

Boston argued that the Quinn statute clearly states that the municipality will pay half and the state will pay half; nowhere does it say that one will pick up the other’s share in the case of a funding shortfall. Municipalities, the city argued, would not have adopted the local option without this level of certainty.

The Boston Globe reported that the city would have faced a bill of nearly $17 million for back pay if the SJC had found in favor of the police union.

The SJC received a number of briefs prior to oral arguments, including one from the MMA on behalf of the city of Boston.
Written by MMA Publications Editor & Web Director John Ouellette