Pro athletes, players’ unions seek to halt Pittsburgh ‘jock tax’ |
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Bob Bauder

Two professional hockey players, a former baseball player and players unions are challenging Pittsburgh’s so-named “jock tax” and seeking a court injunction that would prevent the city from collecting it.

The plaintiffs are former Penguin Scott Wilson, now in the Buffalo Sabres’ minor league system, Kyle Palmieri, a right winger with the New Jersey Devils, former baseball player Jeff “Frenchy” Francoeur and the players’ associations of the National Hockey League, National Football League and Major League Baseball. They filed a 525-page lawsuit with exhibits Tuesday in the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas. Francoeur currently works as a baseball analyst for Fox Sports

They contend the city unfairly levies a 3% earned income tax on visiting professional athletes while taxing all other residents a 1% income tax.

Dan Gilman, Mayor Bill Peduto’s chief of staff, declined to comment citing the pending litigation.

Boston attorney Stephen W. Kidder, who represents the plaintiffs, said the city is unfairly targeting professional athletes.

“This is frankly a tax,” he said. “It’s not a fee, and it is applied only against visiting athletes. We think it’s completely unfair and unconstitutional under both the Pennsylvania Constitution and the U.S. Constitution.”

Pittsburgh since 2005 has charged nonresident entertainers and professional athletes who perform at publicly funded venues — including PNC Park, Heinz Field and PPG Paints Arena — a 3 percent “nonresident facility usage fee” on salaries they earn in the city.

Members of the Pirates, Steelers and Penguins pay the tax if they live outside city limits.

Entertainers pay their portion of the tax on the salary they earn in Pittsburgh.

The formula for hockey and baseball players is based on the salaries they earn for games played in the city, according to the lawsuit. Football players pay the tax on salaries earned during “duty days,” or the total number of days they work in a season. Duty days can include spring training, training camp, practice days, travel days and contractual public appearances.

Teams collect the taxes from their players and remit the money to the city.

Pittsburgh expects to generate $5.5 million in 2019 in “jock tax” revenue, according to its proposed operating budget.

Kidder said the city is constitutionally bound to levy income taxes uniformly to all people.

“At this point in time, athletes for the most part in jurisdictions around the country are treated just like other income taxpayers,” he said. “What’s happening here is nonresidents of Pittsburgh are effectively paying an income tax that’s three times the amount that they would be paying if they lived in Pittsburgh. You can’t treat a nonresident differently than a resident and unfairly penalize them.”

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