Professional Athletes File Suit Against Pittsburgh Athlete Tax

PITTSBURGH (CN) — In opposition to a decade-old tax on professional athletes, players associations from the National Hockey League, Major League Baseball and National Football League joined forces Wednesday to file a lawsuit against the city of Pittsburgh.

Three professional athletes — former MLB player Jeffrey Francoeur and NHL players Kyle Palmieri and Scott Wilson — are listed along with the organizations as plaintiffs in Allegheny Common Pleas Court.

The lawsuit stems from a 2005 Pittsburgh ordinance that requires professional athletes to pay 3% of their taxable “earned income allocable to the days worked” in Pittsburgh.

While the Pennsylvania Legislature gave the okay to Pittsburgh to begin charging a “usage fee” to “nonresident individuals who use [a sports stadium or arena in Pittsburgh] to engage in an athletic event,” in 2004, the lawsuit argues that the Pittsburgh ordinance is out of compliance with the state’s permissions.

“Though Pittsburgh officially calls its tax on professional athletes a ‘license fee,’ it bears all the hallmarks of a tax,” the complaint states. “It is a percentage, rather than a flat amount.”

Represented by Charles Potter of Hemenway and Barnes, the three professional sports associations along with three professional athletes who have been subject to the tax are asking that the court issue a declaratory judgment stating that “a non-residential professional athlete tax is a tax, not a fee.”

“This mismatch — between the Commonwealth’s approach to income allocation, on the one hand, and the City’s approach on the other — violates the state law that requires the City to follow guidance promulgated by the Department of Revenue,” the complaint states.

Francoeur said he paid $758 to the city in 2016 when he traveled there to play four games against the Pirates as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies and later the Atlanta Braves. Similarly, Kyle Palmieri, a New Jersey Devils hockey player, said he paid $1,902 for the four games he played against the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2016.

The complaint also states that Wilson, a player for the Pittsburgh Penguins who lives outside the city in Wexford, played 33 games in 2016 in Pittsburgh Penguins Paints Arena and paid $5,970 to Pittsburgh since he is not technically a resident.

The plaintiffs also argue that only non-resident professional athletes are subject to the 3% nonresident tax and that the tax is not uniform, as the Pennsylvania constitution dictates, because nonresidents who are not professional athletes who earn income in the city of Pittsburgh are only subject to a 1% tax.

Potter did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment Wednesday. A spokesperson for the city did not immediately return a phone call requesting comment.

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