While immigrant financier-trader-philanthropist Stephen Girard has been dead since 1831, Pennsylvanians are still fighting over his legacy (still over $200 million). On Wednesday the Pennsylvania Supreme Court will hear appeals on a tax case. A ruling could cost millions for the estate, which supports Philadelphia's free Girard College, and also affect other charities, including Wills Eye Hospital. Read my column from last Sunday's Philadelphia Inquirer here. Excerpt:

"Lawyers for the Girard Estate, which is administered by the Philadelphia Board of City Trusts, are fighting to protect its state tax exemptions.
"Arguing that they should be able to tax Girard’s real estate investments, lawyers for the tax assessor’s office of Cumberland County, Pa., backed by county governments in the state, have resuscitated arguments Girard Estate trustees made in the 1950s, when they were resisting racial desegregation. (The will limited Girard College to “white male” orphans.)
“While the effect” of a 1958 Pennsylvania court ruling, which temporarily kept black students out, “is abhorrent,” the same ruling’s analysis of Girard as a private charity and not a public entity “was nevertheless good case law” and shows that its investments are private and taxable, wrote the tax assessor’s lawyer, Stephen Douglas Tiley, of Frey & Tileyin Carlisle (even though federal judges later ruled Girard is a public institution as far as antidiscrimination laws go).
By contrast, Girard’s lawyers, headed by Stephen Cozen of Cozen O’Connor, Philadelphia, note its board is selected by state judges, operates under a “unique” state law spelling out its public purpose, and has been recognized as tax-exempt by state and federal authorities.
The estate could have to reimburse bondholders for millions more, plus “substantial fees and penalties,” if its property becomes taxable. A pro-tax decision “would likely threaten the performance and, possibly, existence” of Girard College, Wills Eye Hospital, and other charities administered by the Board of City Trusts, PFM lawyer Sarah Chadwick Cocke wrote.The fight has dragged on for 10 years. Millions are at stake for Girard, which has already cut entering class sizes in half, blaming weak investment markets and difficulties refinancing its debt. A friend-of-the-court brief from Girard consultant Public Financial Management Inc.says the trust has had to delay bond refinancings that would have saved the estate $2.8 million because of uncertainty about the court case.