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NHLPA, two players sue city of Pittsburgh over 'jock tax'

8 novembre 2019
The NHL Players Association, as well as players Scott Wilson and Kyle Palmieri, have launched a lawsuit against the City of Pittsburgh over a 'jock tax.' If you're uncertain what that is, you're likely not alone, so we'll do our best to explain it. A jock tax is an income tax levied against visitors to a city or state who earn money in that jurisdiction, mainly professional athletes. In this case, Pittsburgh charges a three percent tax on any income visiting athletes earn in the city while visiting their sports team's for games.

According to papers filed in court this week, The NHLPA, Wilson and Palmieri argue that "this system of taxation cannot be reconciled with the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, which requires that all taxation be uniform." It adds that "as a matter of state constitutional law, Pittsburgh cannot tax non-residents at a higher rate than residents. Nor can the City single out a class of employees, like professional athletes, for a higher rate of taxation." The court documents put forward the position that "Pittsburgh's tax on non-resident athletes also violates the US constitution by affording its residents preferential tax treatment while imposing higher tax rates on those who reside out of state."

This "jock tax" seems very strange, yet it's not really uncommon. Not only are the working schedules of high-profile athletes public, so are their salaries in many cases. The tax dates back to the 1960s, but started being imposed aggresively in 1991 when California taxed the earnings of Chicago Bulls players who traveled to Los Angeles to play the Lakers in that year's NBA Finals.

In 2003, the Tax Foundation, an organization based in Washington, D.C. that collects data and publishes studies on tax policies, called the jock tax poorly targeted, arbitrarily enforced, and unrealistically burdensome to athletes. An analyst for the foundation pointed out in 2014 that because taxes are imposed on everyone who travels with a professional sports team, many individuals subject to the tax are not the stereotypical highly-paid athletes. It can include trainers, scouts and others earning much less.

Palmieri currently plays for the New Jersey Devils, and has been playing in the NHL regularly since the 2009-10 season. Wilson is currently under contract with the Buffalo Sabres, but plays with the Rochester Americans. Ironically, Wilson spent parts of seven seasons playing for the Pittsburgh Penguins, or their AHL affiliate the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, who are also based in Pennsylvania. There is no word on how much money each plaintiff is seeking in the suit.

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