State Court Calls ‘Foul’ on Cleveland Jock Tax

Published May 27, 2015

Two former National Football League players, Chicago Bears linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer and Indianapolis Colts center Jeff Saturday are receiving reimbursements from the City of Cleveland after they sued the city alleging its taxes on visiting professionals improperly targeted athletes for higher taxation.

The Ohio Supreme Court agreed with the arguments made by Hillenmeyer and Saturday, and it ordered the Cleveland to refund excess tax money collected from the players.

Cleveland is the only taxing authority in the country applying a “jock tax” on visiting professional athletes based on the number of games played in the city, instead of the more common method of calculating such taxes: the number of days the athletes worked in the taxing jurisdiction.

Targeting Foul

Buckeye Institute Policy Analyst Greg Lawson says all jock taxes are unfair, and Cleveland’s was even more unfair than the rest.

“Cleveland was an anomaly,” Lawson said. “No other city calculated tax liability for entertainers and athletes in the way they did, which was intentionally targeted in such a way as to impose a higher tax liability. Entertainers and athletes are the most targeted due to their heavy travel and high compensation. As to whether it’s fair, all ‘jock taxes,’ even those that are better levied than the one in Cleveland, still target certain classes of taxpayers.”

‘An Easy Score’

Mercatus Center Research Fellow Christopher Koopman says Cleveland should stop shaking down high-income professionals for exorbitant tax revenue.

“I think the best policy for cities like Cleveland going forward is to get serious about the way they tax and spend and to avoid gimmicks like jock taxes to raise revenue,” Koopman said. “While athletes and entertainers may be easy targets, sound policies should be based on principles of generality, rather than trying to target specific people or groups.

“In Ohio, local governments cannot tax out-of-town workers unless they spend more than 12 days working in the city [, according to state law],” Koopman said. “They’ve chosen, however, to treat athletes differently. This is probably based on the assumption that taxing athletes would be an easy score.”


Matt Hurley ([email protected]) writes from Cincinnati, Ohio.