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What is the Tennessee “Jock Tax”?

Tennessee is one of the few states in the nation with no state income tax. We get away with this by finding other ways of taxing our citizens. One of the obvious revenue streams is state sales tax, as our rates our higher than most states across the nation. Then there are the abnormal tax laws that go unnoticed by so many, even those that they effect because the impact is spread out over time and spread out over entities in order to avoid notice. And then, there are those tax laws that initially go unnoticed by the
affected and the non-affected alike, but usually cause a storm of controversy when discovered due to the blatant inequity of taxation. One such law in this category is the “Jock Tax”, so named due to it being strictly for professional
athletes.

Grizzlies_Mavericss_jump_ballThe “Jock Tax” is one of the most absurd taxes in the nation. Actually, there are quite a few states that have these taxes, but Tennessee’s is created differently. The concept is straightforward. Athletes collect checks for each game they play in all over the country. A chunk of this comes out as taxes. If the player has to pay jock tax, a larger chunk will come out. The local residents of the sports cities pay a lot of money to come to these arenas. And these fans expect state-of-the-art buildings with all the possible amenities. Some states decide to tax these visiting athletes in order to bring in revenue without taxing their own citizens. In Tennessee, any player that comes into town must pay a fee of $2,500 per game up to 3 games. This tax does not exclude players from home town teams.

There is an inequity of tax distribution as a result of this structure. Players like Shea Weber or Marc Gasol will pay $7,500 per year which is hardly noticeable when looking at their contracts. But then there are players like Chris Johnson. This is not Chris Johnson the Titan (another absurd part of the tax-it is for the NBA and NHL. The NFL is exempt), but Chris Johnson, the short-lived Memphis Grizzly, who signed 2 different 10 day contracts with the team last season and earned a gross total of around $54,000 before getting released. So before he figures his federal income tax, he must hand over $7,500. It is even possible that some of the lower-salaried players could actually lose money by playing a game in Tennessee.

Does this $7,500 check go to the Tennessee Department of Revenue? No, actually it does not. It instead goes to the organization that waived him. That is right. This is a tax that goes to a private entity. The theory is that the arena officials will use this money to create a better atmosphere, which should bring in more visitors to the city and thus bring in the tax Tennessee is ultimately looking for. The tax, which was enacted in 2009, has generated over $2 million in Nashville and over $1 million in Memphis.

A collective bargaining agreement has stopped the tax on NHL players, but the NBA is still fighting for a repeal.

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