Section 115 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as amended, provides the following:
Gross income does not include – (1) income derived from any public utility or the exercise of any essential governmental function and accruing to a State or any political subdivision thereof, or the District of Columbia; or (2) income accruing to the government of any possession of the United States, or any political subdivision thereof.
Rev. Rul. 57-128, 1957-1 C.B. 311, provides that the following six factors are considered in determining whether an organization is a wholly owned instrumentality of a political subdivision or a State:
- Whether the organization is used for a governmental purpose and performs a governmental function;
- Whether the performance of the organization’s functions is on behalf of one or more states or political subdivisions;
- Whether there are private interests involved, or whether the states or political subdivisions involved have the powers and interests of an owner;
- Whether control or supervision of the organization is vested in public authority or authorities;
- Whether express or implied statutory or other authority is necessary or exists for the creation and/or use of the organization; and
- The organization’s degree of financial autonomy and the source of its operating expenses.
PLR 201720001 (May 22, 2017): The entity was established by a county to combat the long-term economic and demographic decline aggravated by a residential foreclosure crisis.
PLR 201714001 (Apr. 10, 2017): Entity was established by a county to carry out the statutory purposes of combating community deterioration by restoring abandoned and blighted property and promoting economic and housing development in that county. Entity’s income determined to be derived from its performance of an essential governmental function and accrued to a state or political subdivision and, therefore, was excludable from gross income under I.R.C. 115. County can dissolve the entity at any time, in accordance with state law. The board consists of five to nine members. The board must include the County’s treasurer and two County commissioners. These directories unanimously select additional directors. The office of County auditor manages the entity’s daily operations. See also PLR 201712001 (Dec. 2, 2016)
PLR 201652001 (Sept. 13, 2016): Taxpayer was established by various political subdivisions of the state (the participating employers) to hold assets to be used to provide self-funded, pooled self-funded or purchased insurance programs for their employees as provided under the plans. The taxpayer is managed by a nine-member board of trustees. Each board member is elected by the participating employers. The plans provide coverage for medical, pharmacy, dental, vision, mental health and disability insurance for the employees of the participating employers. Each participating employer must be a political subdivision of the state. IRS concludes that the income of the taxpayer derives from the exercise of an essential governmental function and accrues to a state or a political subdivision thereof. The taxpayer’s income is excludable from gross income under I.R.C. 115.
PLR 201308010: The IRS has ruled that the anticipated income of two corporations formed by a mayoral directive to foster economic development qualifies for the exclusion from gross income under section 115 because the income will be derived from the exercise of an essential governmental function and will accrue to a state or a political subdivision. The letter rulings discusses the factors in Rev. Rul. 57-128 to determine, for employment tax purposes, whether the corporations constitute wholly owned instrumentalities of a political subdivion – the City.
See 1990 Exempt Organization – Continuing Professional Education, Module E. Instrumentalities for a good overview of the status of organizations as instrumentalities of a political subdivision, 501(c)(3) determination for such entities and filing exemptions.
PLR 200406003 (Oct. 31, 2003): Corporation overseeing and managing hotel is considered an instrumentality of the City for purposes of I.R.C. 141.
PLR 201441003 (Oct. 10, 2014): Income of trust created to fund costs for health and welfare benefits to city retirees and their dependents was excludable from gross income under Code Sec. 115(1); where it was derived from exercise of essential govt. function and would accrue to state or political subdivision.
Rev. Rul. 77-261, 1977-2 C.B. 45: Income generated by an investment fund that is established by a state to hold revenues in excess of the amounts needed to meet current expenses is excludable from gross income under I.R.C. 115(1), because such investment constitutes an essential governmental function. The ruling explains that the statutory exclusion is intended to extend not to the income of a state or municipality resulting from its own participation in activities, but rather to the income of an entity engaged in the operation of a public utility or the performance of some governmental function that accrues to either a state or political subdivision of a state. The ruling points out that it may be assumed that Congress did not desire in any way to restrict a state’s participation in enterprises that might be useful in carrying out projects that are desirable from the standpoint of a state government and that are within the ambit of a sovereign to conduct.
Rev. Rul. 90-74, 1990-2 C.B. 34: Income of an organization formed, funded, and operated by political subdivisions to pool various risks (e.g., casualty, public liability, workers’ compensation, and employees’ health) is excludable from gross income under IRC § 115(1), because the organization is performing an essential governmental function. In Rev. Rul. 90-74, private interests neither materially participate in the organization nor benefit more than incidentally from the organization.
Rev. Proc. 95-48: Exempts an organization that is an affiliate of a governmental unit from the requirement of filing Form 990. Section 4.02 of that Revenue Procedure provides that an organization is treated as an affiliate of a governmental unit if it is described in I.R.C. 501(c) and it meets the requirements of either Section 4.02(a) or (b). Section 4.02(a)(i) states that an organization is treated as an affiliate of a governmental unit if it has a ruling or determination from the Service that its income, derived from activities constituting the basis for its exemption under I.R.C. 501(c), is excluded from gross income under I.R.C. 115.
PLR 201442037: Income derived by authority created by Agency and County to manage water matters is income derived from exercise of essential governmental function and will accrue to state or political subdivision thereof for IRC § 115(1) purposes, and the Authority is a constituted authority for purposes of Treas. Reg. 1.103-1(b).
PLR 201509001 (and PLR 201338029): Income of state non-profit corporation is derived from the exercise of an essential governmental function and will accrue to state or political subdivision thereof, and is therefore excludable from gross income for purposes of I.R.C. 115(1).
PLR 201528010: In this one, a state university (with various ‘foundations’ that operate the university departments) and a state-created teaching hospital form a corporation to “provide a more strategically, financially and clinically integrated clinical enterprise, […] and to align the interests of all physicians currently employed by the foundations into a single physician organization.” The corporation will provide clinical services to the hospital’s patients and support the educational mission of the university. The corporation has two classes of common stock, but the stock have no pecuniary value and do not provide dividends. The university holds one class of shares, the hospital holds the other class of shares. Neither the university nor the hospital may sell or transfer the shares without approval of all shareholders and the corporation’s board of directors. Upon dissolution, assets must be transfer to the state or a section 115 entity. The IRS determines that the corporation is exercising essential governmental functions and that its income from those functions is exempt under section 115.
PLR 201537019: Multiple employer trust with public agencies as participating employers can be a Section 115 entity with respect to each participating agency.
PLR 201538011: A city’s trust provides length of service benefits to volunteer fire fighters. The trust’s income is excludable from gross income for federal income tax purposes.
PLR 201550026: A trust’s income was derived from the exercise of an essential governmental function and accrued to a state or political subdivision and, therefore, was excludable from gross income under Code Sec. 115. Since the trust’s income was excludable from gross income, it was not required to file an annual income tax return. The trust was established by various political subdivisions of the state (the participating employers), to hold assets used to provide health and welfare benefits to their employees, and some former employees, as provided under the plan.
PLR 201551001 and PLR 201551002 (Sept. 8, 2015): State nonprofit corporation’s income is excludable from gross income under I.R.C. 115. The corporation is not required to file annual information returns on Form 990. The corporation is a 501(c)(6) organization that is exempt under I.R.C. 501(a). Membership in the corporation (association) is limited to special districts. The special districts are devoted to providing specific services to citizens of the state, such as irrigation, port, fire, and sanitary services. Membership is open to any intergovernmental agency, department, council or similar entity created under state statute, or statewide or regional associations of local government or any other public entities that qualify as political subdivisions or municipal, quasi-municipal or public corporations under state statute. The corporation board consists of representatives from each class of member. The corporation develops and disseminates information and acts as a clearinghouse for general and specific information to improve efficiency in the provision of all types of public service, cooperates with the state congressional delegation in items of common interest in matters of national legislation, etc. The corporation will have a separate LLC to assist members with financial matters. The corporation also has a trust for providing self-insured insurance pools and group purchase of insurance to members. Corporation is found to be providing services that the members would otherwise perform. Based generally on the forgoing, the IRS concludes that the corporation derives its income from the exercise of an essential governmental function and the income accrues to a state or political subdivision, and therefore the corporation’s income is excludable under I.R.C. 115. Under Rev. Proc. 95-48, the corporation does not need to file the Form 990.