Sonics owner Clay Bennett claims he’s serious about building a new suburban arena for the team. Personally, I don’t believe him. His recent announcements are most likely intended to provide cover when he finally picks up and moves the team to Oklahoma City.
But if the state Legislature does decide to give him everything he wants (you know, a free, $300 million arena where he keeps all the revenue, state and local government picks up all the tabs for repairs, and he can still leave before the bonds are paid off,) I’ve got a suggestion on how to fund it: an income tax on the salaries earned by visiting athletes during their “duty days” in the state.
At least twenty other states already levy just such a “jock tax”… a tax our own Sonics, Mariners and Seahawks players already pay on nearly every away game. So why shouldn’t we tax opposing players too?
It won’t cost WA residents anything, and in fact, it won’t cost most of the visiting players all that much either, as any tax they pay here can be deducted from their state and federal income taxes, and they’re already hiring accountants to file tax returns in a dozen or more states. And they’re millionaires. Put a high exemption on the tax so as not to burden low-paid athletes in low-profile sports, but make the A-Rods pay their due. They can afford it.
As it is we don’t seem to have an ethical problem taxing visiting tourists for car rentals and hotel rooms to pay off the bonds at Safeco and Qwest fields, so why shouldn’t we be taxing the people who benefit most from these public projects, the athletes whose multimillion dollar contracts are subsidized by the super luxury boxes Bennett covets?
As for the constitutional issues, well that’s just a bonus as far as I see it. We get to test that bogus 1933 decision without the prospect of throwing the state into financial chaos should it inexplicably be upheld. And with that red herring out of the way, we can finally debate tax restructuring purely on the merits, without the constitutional question being used as a sledgehammer or an excuse.
I’m absolutely serious. You want the Sonics to stay in the region, but you don’t want to raise local taxes to pay the ransom? Tax visiting athletes. What could be so controversial about that?