National Edition

Golder gold: Exempting Olympic medal winners from taxes

Published: Saturday, Feb. 22 2014 8:15 a.m. MST

Former U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program bobsledder Steven Holcomb of Park City and Steve Langton of Melrose, Mass., hoist the flowers and display their bronze medals during the Olympic two-man bobsled medal ceremony Feb. 18 at Olympic Park in Sochi, Russia. The Russian on the left is Alexander Zubkov, who drove Russia-1 to the gold medal with Alexey Voevoda aboard.

Tim Hipps, U.S. Army photo

Enlarge photo»

Winning a gold medal in Sochi can be lucrative. An American who brings home the gold is awarded $25,000 by the U.S. Olympic Committee. For some athletes, that sum won't hold an Olympic torch to what they might make by endorsements and the like, but it isn't anything to sneeze at either. Problem is, they have to pay tax on those awards. Silver medalists also bring home money, $15,000, and bronze winners get $10,000.

The Hill reports that if Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) has his way, none of those cash awards will be subject to taxes.

How much taxes could a gold winner end up paying otherwise? Up to $9,000.

Yahoo News says a similar measure was proposed in the Senate. Even the White House is on board. "The president believes we should support efforts to ensure that we're doing everything we can to honor and support our Olympic athletes who have volunteered to represent our nation at the Olympic Games," White House spokesman Bobby Whithorne told Yahoo News. "We still support this effort."

A state senator in Illinois is trying to get Olympic medalists exempt from state taxes as well, according to NBC Chicago. "State Sen. Julie Morrison is sponsoring legislation approved by a Senate committee that would exempt Olympians from paying Illinois taxes on their awards," NBC reports.

As of Thursday, Illinois had two bronze medalists, Jason Brown for mixed team figure skating and Aja Evans for bobsledding.

In 2012, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) tried to do the same thing during the Summer Olympic Games, The Hill said. "Our tax code is a complicated and burdensome mess that too often punishes success," Rubio said at the time, "and the tax imposed on Olympic medal winners is a classic example of this madness."

Michelle Singletary at the Washington Post, however, thinks it is a bad idea: "I appreciate that Olympic athletes train hard for years and bring honor to our country when they win and even when they don't. They should be recognized for their efforts — but with a tax break on their earnings? If that's the case — that we're going to use the tax code to celebrate folks' efforts — why not waive income taxes for teachers, or for the men and women who police our streets, serve in the military or fight fires — all for the public good? Don't they deserve a break, too, if we're just going to hand out tax breaks?"

Rob Port at SayAnythingBlog says not every Olympian is an amateur in need of tax breaks. "While I'm generally in favor of lowering tax burdens, I'm not sure why we should be carving out special exemptions for wealthy athletes," he says. "Our tax code is complicated enough as it is. If we're worried about tax burdens, let's lower taxes for everybody, not just a few."

Back in the last move to un-tax medal winners in 2012, Matthew Yglesias at Slate thought the idea was "completely pointless."

"The underlying issue is that taxes aren't supposed to be a cosmic judgment on the underlying worthiness of people's activities," Yglesias said. "The earnings of a great artist and a reality TV show producer are taxed the same. That can seem a bit perverse at times, but having Congress try to assess which professions are important and which are bad would be much worse."

EMAIL: mdegroote@deseretnews.com

Twitter: @degroote

Facebook: facebook.com/madegroote

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