Have you ever heard of the Jock Tax? If you haven’t, be forewarned it’s just another chapter in the politics of envy and governmental overreach. The basic principle of the Jock Tax is that professional athletes make too much money, and that is unfair. So to rectify this unfairness, many cities and states place a ridiculously high tax on visiting players just for the privilege of getting to play in their wonderful state or city.
The history of the Jock Tax goes back to the late 1960s, but it really took off, as legend has it, when California wanted to stick it to NBA superstar Michael Jordan after the Chicago Bulls defeated the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA finals. Acting like adolescents, California passed a state income tax on wages earned on visiting players. Illinois, outraged by this naked aggression shown to their favorite son, came up with its own Jock Tax. After that, it was game on, as other municipalities followed suit using social justice and envy as their justification.
The Jock Tax, like any other government shake down, has become ludicrous. Take Tennessee, where in 2009 the Tennessee General Assembly used the professional privileged tax to go after professional athletes. This tax imposed a fee of between $2,500 and $7,500 per game on NBA players. This, of course, is on top of all the other federal and state taxes taken out of a player’s paycheck. Players earning the league minimum in the NBA and the NHL were losing close to 50% of their paycheck to the Jock Tax alone. The tax was so outrageous the Tennessee General Assembly, in a rare moment of sanity, repealed the tax in 2014. But worry not, the Jock Tax is alive and well across the country. According to Bloomberg, 21 states and eight cities are employing the Jock Tax, which not only impacts visiting players but also extends to anyone traveling with the team like coaches and trainers. The Jock Tax is so lucrative, that in 2013 California raked in $229.2 million in tax revenues from visiting major leaguers.
When Pittsburgh Pirates’ star Andrew McCutchen lost a pay stub and it ended up being posted on Reddit, it exposed just how complicated and convoluted the Jock Tax is. The stub revealed McCutchen had to pay withholding taxes in a variety of the places he traveled to play baseball, which included the cities of Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, and the states of Illinois, Missouri, Arizona, and Ohio. As each locality has its own spin on its version of the Jock Tax, it is not uncommon that professional athletes’ tax returns are the size of small encyclopedias, and they have to hire special accountants to deal with the complexity of the various levies.
Players are starting to fight back against this confiscatory taxation. The National Basketball Association sued Tennessee, asserting that “dozens” of the players owed more in taxes than they earned playing basketball. Since that time the city of Memphis has come to an agreement and will be paying back over $2.38 million in refunds to professional athletes. In Ohio the players had another victory as the Ohio Supreme Court revised the method of how the Jock Tax was calculated in Cleveland, which could result in millions of dollars of refunds. This was the result of a lawsuit filed by former Chicago Bears linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer whose suit claimed Cleveland had violated the “equal protection” clause of the U.S. Constitution. The player’s union sided with Hillenmeyer, saying that Ohio was picking on professional athletes as they were “easy targets.”
I could go on about how unfair these types of taxes are on American citizens. After all, we pay taxes as a necessary evil to fund the operation of government, but when we start taxing people because they “don’t deserve” all that money, or to alter people’s behavior (such as the cigarette tax), it just takes us another step closer to living in a society dictated by mob rule.
I suspect my arguments to repeal the Jock Tax are a fool’s errand given how popular the politics of envy have become. So if we can’t beat them, I say let’s join them. How does a politician’s tax sound? Maybe California can shake down Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton and their entourages for every day they trudge around the Golden State trolling for votes before the upcoming primary? Or even better, force all elected officials to buy carbon offsets based on all the noxious carbon dioxide they spill into the environment in their speeches?
I can dream, can’t I?