- The Washington Times - Friday, May 16, 2003

NEW YORK — A top official said yesterday that Major League Baseball opposes the so-called “jock tax” the District plans to use to finance a significant portion of the cost of a proposed stadium for the Montreal Expos.

MLB president Bob DuPuy called “troublesome” the District’s plan to tax the incomes of both home and visiting baseball players should the Expos relocate to the city next season.

A bill to amend the District’s Home Rule charter to allow for taxation of player salaries is under review by a House committee. District officials plan to fund about 20 percent of a $338.7million stadium-financing package from the jock tax.

But the proposed measure now has perhaps its most important and decisive critic: the organization that currently owns the team Washington wants.

“We will have to review that kind of legislation very carefully, and we have been in contact with the players association on this,” said DuPuy after the conclusion of a two-day owners meeting here. “But right now, that is a troublesome issue.”

DuPuy’s comments were not directed specifically to Washington, but the District is proposing perhaps the country’s most defined jock tax. The incomes of most or all non-residents are taxed in more than two dozen other states and cities, including the taxation of entertainers, traveling salesmen and other mobile professions. Some of the taxes are specific to apply to all pro athletes and performing artists.

The non-resident income taxes have taken on the popular nickname of “jock taxes” because the salaries of pro athletes typically provide the vast majority of revenue from those taxes and also generate the most attention from tax collectors. The District’s proposed measure, however, would not affect anyone other than baseball players.

The baseball players association and some members of Congress also oppose the District’s planned tax. Baseball has opposed jock taxes in several other cities as well but has been largely powerless to stop them.

District officials long have planned for the possibility that a jock tax would not be viable, and they say the ballpark financing package can go on without it, if necessary. The other 80 percent of the public funding for a $436million stadium is intended to come from sales taxes on ballpark-related commerce and a tax on the gross receipts of large businesses in the District.

If DuPuy and other baseball officials can be swayed on the jock tax, District officials believe it can also withstand any legal challenge.

“The jock tax is not critical to this [financing] package,” Steve Green, special assistant in the office of planning and economic development, said through a spokesman. “If that doesn’t happen, the other bonding measures would need to be carried out longer. But it nevertheless would be quite doable and feasible.”

Virginia also wants to use a jock tax as part of its proposed stadium financing plan. But the commonwealth’s non-resident taxation applies to all occupations and has been in its tax code for years. Richmond legislators have approved the use of ballpark-related, non-resident income taxes for stadium financing.

Baseball commissioner Bud Selig yesterday declined to comment on the Expos or the likelihood they would be relocated in time for next season. Following Wednesday’s meetings, DuPuy said baseball’s relocation committee is developing contingency plans should owners not be prepared to make a decision on the Expos by mid-July.

Officially, baseball still intends to announce the fate of the Expos by the All-Star Game. But opinion is increasing that neither the owners nor the current candidates for the team — the District, Northern Virginia and Portland, Ore. — are truly ready to make the move before 2004. Baseball is demanding firm stadium financing, as much from public sources as possible, before reaching a decision.

The leading fallback option is more games in Puerto Rico, where the Expos will play 22 of 81 home contests this season. Baseball officials, particularly Selig, also remain open to the possibility of permanently relocating the Expos to San Juan.

“We would be delighted to consider a proposal from San Juan,” Selig wrote in a May2 letter to Anibal Acevedo-Vila, Puerto Rico’s non-voting representative to Congress. The letter asked for plans for a permanent, major league-quality stadium, TV market data, and indicators of government and corporate support for a team.

“It would also be necessary for us to gain some sense of a person or group of persons who may wish to acquire this club,” Selig wrote.

Acevedo-Vila asked Selig for more baseball in Puerto Rico after the success of last month’s initial “homestand” there by the Expos.

The owners’ primary piece of business yesterday was the unanimous approval of the purchase of the Anaheim Angels by Arizona industrialist Arturo Moreno. The purchase made Moreno the first Hispanic majority owner in major pro sports, and Selig yesterday marveled at the speed with which Moreno was approved.

“He’s what you hope you’re going to get when you get an owner,” Selig said. “This went through all the committees as fast as I’ve ever seen. There was no objection to this at any level.”

Walt Disney Co. had the Angels on the market for several years, and will sell the club to Moreno for $184million, tens of millions less than any of its varying asking prices. Moreno made much of his fortune, valued at an estimated $940million, in outdoor advertising, and formally was a limited partner of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

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