Thursday, May 29, 2003

Skaters roll out with less in wallets

Organizers flip over 'jock tax'

By Gregory Korte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

When Cincinnati City Council passed the controversial "jock tax" last year, the city hoped to pad its coffers by taxing the paychecks of out-of-town athletes and performers such as Sammy Sosa, Randy Moss and Don Henley.

Odds are, they weren't thinking of Tony Hawk, Ryan Nyquist and Marco de Santi.

But the jock tax doesn't discriminate between multimillion-dollar baseball players and lesser-paid professional skateboarders, and so the Mobile Skatepark Series winners left town this week with 2.1 percent less prize money than they expected.

Organizers of the second annual event - a joint venture of the California-based Aggressive Skaters Association and the Greater Cincinnati Sports Corp. - said they never heard of the jock tax until city tax collectors came calling.

"No other city makes them do this, and they do this in 200 cities over the world," said Leslie Spencer, a spokeswoman for the event. "They love Cincinnati, and they love the event. It just threw them off guard."

With $80,000 in prize money for the tournament, the city is expected to collect $1,680 total. Some skaters make as little as $200, putting their tax bill at $4.20.

That's small change compared to other taxpayers. When Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees and his $15.6 million-a-year contract come to town for a three-game interleague series against the Cincinnati Reds next week, he alone will owe the city $6,066.

Deputy Tax Commissioner Ted Nussman said the city has to treat all professional athletes the same, no matter how much - or how little - they make. He said he didn't know anything about pro skateboarding, either, until he saw an ad in the newspaper. Then he sent the tax forms and instructions.

Organizers tried to get an exemption, but the ordinance passed last December doesn't provide for one.

City officials estimate they'll collect less than $1 million a year from the tax, but won't know for sure until the end of the year.

Councilman David Pepper, who relentlessly pushed the jock tax as a way to even the tax burden and balance the city's budget, said the Skatepark Series shouldn't be too upset.

The city was a main sponsor of the event, contributing $17,000 in tax money.


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