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Rubio proposes Olympic medal tax break

Rubio proposes Olympic medal tax break

It’s been met with praise, and skepticism. (Via Yahoo!News)

“Athletes representing our nation overseas in the Olympics shouldn’t have to worry about an extra tax bill waiting for them back home,” Rubio said in a statement. “We can all agree that these Olympians who dedicate their lives to athletic excellence should not be punished when they achieve it.”

Americans for Tax Reform, a group founded by conservative activist Grover Norquist, estimated that Olympic medalists face a tax burden of as much as $8,986 when they return from the competition.

To me, the idea sounds great. Why should we punish our athletes with a tax burden because they represented us too well? However, Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic sees the proposed tax break to be out of step with Rubio’s general policy of overall tax reform.

But treating Olympic winnings as if they are singular and morally superior to other income, and even other prize income, cannot be justified, and least of all by someone who advocates tax code simplicity and objects to government picking winners and losers. Simplifying the American tax code is tremendously important. Rubio’s proposal tries to trade on that importance, but it is no more than a cheap stunt, and the man proposing it seems not to realize that the impulse behind his bill is the very one he needs to defeat if he’s serious about tax code reform.

It’s an interesting point. I wouldn’t go so far as to say Rubio engaged in a “cheap stunt.” Rather, it seems a genuine attempt to do a nice thing for (mostly young) Olympians who are helping promote America’s global prestige. I also don’t think that adding a line or two to the tax code to accommodate Olympic athletes would do much to convolute it.

However, over the last quarter century, doing well and representing your country on the global stage hasn’t necessarily translated to immunity from taxes. Even those who win the Nobel Prize learn that it comes with a hefty burden from Uncle Sam.

The fact that IRS gets a piece of prizes can be a rude awakening for Nobel winners.  Martin Chalfie won a Nobel in Chemistry but lamented the tax bill.  See Life After Winning a Nobel Prize.  Before 1986, most prizes were tax-free. Now prizes and awards are taxable.

And of course, winners of Obama’s dinner raffles also must pay the tax man.

So what do you think? Do Olympic athletes trump Nobel Prize and Obama Dinner Raffle winners?


Donations tax deductible
to the full extent allowed by law.


The ENTIRE tax code MUST be scrapped.

Piddling with it is NOT the answer. Burn. It. Down.

Replace it with a tax system that is rational, comprehensible, and raises ONLY the money needed for Constitutional (LIMITED) government with no redistribution. At. All.

    GrumpyOne in reply to Ragspierre. | August 2, 2012 at 2:22 pm

    Actually, the fix is easy… Just amend the current code where income earned abroad is excluded from income taxes if a certain number of days are met doing so.

    Eliminate the “expat” requirement for participants in organized amateur sports events.

    But you’re right, the tax code in general needs to be overhauled through simplification and elimination of loopholes for all entities.

I take Friedersdorf’s position. Whether this initiative a stunt or not, it is a cheapening of policy-making and the role of legislators. It degrades the larger effort at reform for all Americans, and subjects Rubio to the charge of picking favorites for self-evidently emotional or sensationalizing reasons. And I’m tired of America society glorifying athletes and athletics anyway. Too many people in America work harder and sacrifice more and get no breaks.

    Ragspierre in reply to raven. | August 2, 2012 at 11:59 am

    I can’t resist…

    This kind of atmospheric nonsense is something we HAVE to forcefully keep our representatives from wasting time on.

    We HAVE to keep them focused on FIRST FLUCKING PRINCIPLES…the big picture of RADICAL REFORM, not pale pandering palliation!!!!

      raven in reply to Ragspierre. | August 2, 2012 at 12:06 pm

      I agree. I thought Rubio was smarter than this. He may be too smart, which is another kind of problem.

        Ragspierre in reply to raven. | August 2, 2012 at 12:11 pm

        I get the impulse, totally.

        But his is a “forest for trees” take. Even really smart, really good people have to be kept on track.

        The days of “Leave it to Ike” are WAY over (if they ever existed). We ALL have to be RAZORS and militant about it.

Cheap stunt as evidenced by the flowery justification.

Wait. Olympic “winnings?” You mean a medal? So, if you get a medal and they tax it, and later on in life you sell it, do they tax it again?

Of course they do. It should not have been taxed in the first place because IT’S NOT INCOME. Only a lunatic would claim it is. Sure, when they hand you a check to go with your Nobel prize, the check would be income, though I have no problem with excepting that kind of windfall from taxation.

Taxation is a direct evil. It’s the government stealing so politicians can buy votes. This is a bad thing and should not be encouraged.

    gasper in reply to irv. | August 2, 2012 at 12:30 pm

    I agree. If it’s income, do they get to deduct the expenses required to win that medal? Do those who did not win get to deduct their expenses as a loss?

    Frank Koza in reply to irv. | August 2, 2012 at 2:40 pm

    No, irv, they don’t tax it again later in life if they sell it. They will tax the capital gains upon the sale. However, that tax would be computed in current dollars, not adjusted for the portion of the gain due to inflation. So in fact, yes, they would be imposing a higher tax than the original exaction on the original award.

    Oh, the convoluted web we allow them to weave to steal more from us without us knowing any better. I need a beer.

Just a historical note: Nobel prizes (and similar prizes, such as the Pulitzer prize and the MacArthur fellowships) were not taxable income in the United States until, I think, the Tax Reform Act of 1986.

Irv, they mean the cash prize that comes with the medal. (The worth of the medal also gets taxed, but the medal isn’t worth near what the cash prize is.)

In general, I’m not a huge fan of exemptions of some income, especially not based on judgements about the source of the income. The real problem isn’t that their cash awards get taxed, it’s that the tax itself is such a huge percentage of their award.

One of the reasons I actually prefer the income tax over sales taxes is that it’s harder to tax income differently based on whether we like one profession more than other professions. If that barrier breaks, we’ll see different income taxes for nurses than for accountants, for teachers than for construction workers. It’s just a bad road to go down.

If we were taking a hundred or even a thousand dollars out of their $25,000 or so award, this would never have made the news. Instead, they lose about $9,000 out of that $25,000, which is a huge chunk. Lower the overall tax rate, and the calls for exemptions go away.

    “The real problem isn’t that their cash awards get taxed, it’s that the tax itself is such a huge percentage of their award.”

    No. No no no no no.

    The problem is that EVERYTHING gets taxed whether it makes the slightest sense or not. A smaller percentage of an evil action is not a good.

    Taxes should be restricted to a small percentage of a narrow range of activity. Until they are, there should be as many exemptions as there are stars in the sky and IRS agents should be held criminally liable for attempting to collect in spite of an exemption (whether the filer claimed it or not).

    In summary: The problem is NOT the amount of the tax. It’s the immorality of taxation.

    FX Phillips in reply to jerry. | August 2, 2012 at 6:39 pm

    Jerry says

    If we were taking a hundred or even a thousand dollars out of their $25,000 or so award, this would never have made the news. Instead, they lose about $9,000 out of that $25,000, which is a huge chunk.

    The $9000.00 dollar tax bill is only applicable if the next dollar they earn is in the top marginal rate. If that $25,000.00 is all they made for the year the bill would be around $1900(single, 1 exemption, standard deduction)rounded to the nearest hundred. It really does, as in all tax matters, depend on particular facts and circumstances.

    However if the IRS takes the position that this was income from “employment” they may be able to tack on an additional charge for Timothy Geithner’s favorite tax the self employment tax. Which would add another $3200.00 or so to the bill.

    Not advocating just saying.

It seems like taxing the medals is the right thing to do in order to maintain precedent. Favoring one issue or another is a typical congressional behavior and needs to bred out of their mindset.

Instead have the USOC setup a donation category where persons and corporations can donate directly a medal tax covering fund. The thought is delicious: get a tax deductible donation for donating to the medal tax covering fund!

Henry Hawkins | August 2, 2012 at 12:12 pm

Not a cheap stunt, though a not-so-well thought out gesture.

I’d need to know more about how much (if at all) Olympic athletes are underwritten for training, travel, etc., to have a coherent opinion.

Based on what little I do know, I agree with the idea of not setting a special tax-emempt category for Olympians. We know what would happen – it would be used as a precedent to include yet other categories of taxpayers in the new exemption.

MaggotAtBroadAndWall | August 2, 2012 at 12:13 pm

Why don’t we cut government so there’s no need to tax Olympic prizes?

Or, better yet, how about repealing the income tax altogether and the 16th Amendment? Replace it with a consumption tax. Then nobody is penalized for being successful. A consumption tax would create huge incentives to save, which in turn will generate capital formation. You’d be taxed, or penalized, only when you consume your earnings. If you engage in “conspicuous consumption” like building oversized mansions or luxury sports cars, you pay much more in taxes.

Too rational, I suppose.

    I proposed such a tax about two decades ago.

    Another feature of my tax system was that it only fell on new stuff, and excluded purchases for food and medicine.

    This would produce a WHOPPING market for used stuff, which would be good any way you look at it.

    1. It speaks volumes that both parties are silent about a consumption tax. If, as I suspect, they ram one through next year without debating it during the election, I will be ready to grab a pitchfork and torch and march on Washington.

    2. They wouldn’t eliminate the income tax in favor of a consumption tax. They’d reduce it and jack it up soon thereafter.

    3. My respect for Rubio just dropped. This is the kind of publicity-seeking rubbish I would expect from Chuck Schumer.

      Ragspierre in reply to gs. | August 2, 2012 at 12:38 pm

      Under my happy lil’ fantasy plan, the 16th Amendment has to be KILLED…dead…first.

      And get Rubio’s full remarks first before you slam him.

        MaggotAtBroadAndWall in reply to Ragspierre. | August 2, 2012 at 12:55 pm

        Right. That’s why I included repeal the 16th Amendment in my comment.

          I also like the “consent of the governed” feature.

          If you are sufficiently exorcised about opposition to something the Feds are doing, you have a means to show it legally and EFFECTIVELY.

      I too have supported a consumption tax. Think it thru tho. It is a tax on economic activity. Set at rates necessisary to fund the ridiculous spending of our out of control congress it would be so high along with other sales taxes it would adversly affect that market activity. How we fund the govt by itself isnt the issue. The issue is the govt is so involved in so many areas and as a consequence the resources needed to fund it are not possible no matter what method we use. The deficit is the gauge by which we measure the gap between political desire and economic reality.

    Consumption taxes during economic hard times is a big negative factor with regard to creating jobs.

    Though I was an early Cain supporter, I did not support the imposition of a 9% sales tax on new items. This would be a terrible deterrent for consumption by the public.

    Cutting spending in the public sector is the answer to sound financing and the creation of wealth which in turn increases tax receipts which if properly managed lead to balanced budgets…

2nd Ammendment Mother | August 2, 2012 at 12:32 pm

And of course, the tax on prizes doesn’t take into account the costs of training, practice and competition – none of it’s cheap and most of it is financed by the athletes and their families.

Just to give readers an idea – Olympic level shooters frequently run a thousand targets a day leading up to major matches. That can easily run $5-600 a day in rounds and targets. That leaves our the problem that there are only a few ranges in the US that are equipped for International Matches, which requires travel and lodging to use those fields.

its another rule added to the tax code.
stop it.


Other high achievers in our society pay far higher taxes, with all the same sacrifice while doing more good for the country.

Why should I have to subsidize their lifestyle in the bubble?

You know who else is a high achiever? A family that pays off their mortgage by age 30. About the same amount of lifestyle sacrifice, but if they brag about it one iota, they are cads.

But who do we tell our kids to emulate? The people in the bubble who have no other redeeming qualities as human beings than physical talent and having chosen to pursue that goal over other goals.

When they come back and age out of their sport, most will be looking for jobs from the suckers who paid taxes while they lived in the bubble.

Its no wonder we have a country full of upside down houses, car loans and families that don’t have 10 dollars saved, because this is what we glorify.

    Letting people keep their own money is not a subsidy. That’s liberal thinking.

    A dollar reduction in tax revenue from one place is not a dollar increase in taxes somewhere else. In point of fact, spending outruns revenues by such an insanely high amount, that the amount collected is almost irrelevant.

    Stop complaining about other people’s taxes. Work to cut government spending.

      Andy in reply to irv. | August 2, 2012 at 5:46 pm

      So if Olympic athletes don’t pay taxes, who the hell is supposed to pay for all that infrastructure that they use every day?

      I’ve never seen a community swimming pool be anything but a gigantic money pit.

        colonialBoy in reply to Andy. | August 3, 2012 at 9:53 pm

        Oh? And which community swimming pool do YOU use that was paid for by the Feds?

        Those athletes represent HUGE community assets! There’s not a village or town in America that doesn’t put up a sign in their honour.

      Andy in reply to irv. | August 2, 2012 at 5:50 pm

      BTW- I voted democrat until I became one of those suckers who works and has to pay for all this infrastructure.

    Andy in reply to Andy. | August 2, 2012 at 12:55 pm

    BTW- I know I’m in the minority of people who feel this way.

    But I am right. Americans will have there kids do sports 3-4 seasons a year, and all day Saturday’s from age 8 to 18 but will allow their kids to graduate without ever holding a job.

    We as a society have glorified this.

    We don’t glorify activities that foster the next person to invent post-it notes, bucky balls, or the next tool as cool as the weed eater.

    Hence I get a little grumpy around the Olympics, because I understand the opportunity cost.

    BTW- I put myself through college on an athletic scholarship and graduated as an engineer. I slugged my way through the hard courses (getting C’s because I could NOT stay up all night to study while running 100 mile weeks). I understand the choices and the opportunity cost better than anyone.

How about all of the bread winners getting a tax break?

    JackRussellTerrierist in reply to Sally Paradise. | August 2, 2012 at 3:50 pm

    Absolutely, and while I certainly don’t begrudge our athletes a break, too, I would start with the military. They should not be paying taxes of any kind.

NC Mountain Girl | August 2, 2012 at 1:02 pm

As a former tax specialist I think there are more issues here than are first apparent. Whether any taxes are actually paid may depend upon the individual medal winner and the sport. Most Olympic athletes in the higher profile sports expect to profit financially from through prize money, endorsements/paid appearances or from coaching others in their sport. If you have a reasonable expectation of making a profit from a sport then the IRS allows the deduction of all applicable expenses. In such cases I have no problem including the value of any medal in income.

The people who probably get the shaft are from the more esoteric sports where there are limited opportunities for commercialization. Think the sports that aren’t even shown on NBC Sport channel at 4 am much less in prime time on the broadcast channel. It is possible for a medal winner in such a sport to fall into a Catch 22: The IRS would consider the expenses of pursuing the sport to Olympic level a non deductible hobby while then taxing them on the full value of any medals won.

Also would the exemption apply only to members of the official US Team or to any person subject to US income tax? There are individuals at the games who are tax residents of the United States but who represent other nations. Athletes from smaller nations often move to larger nations to pursue their sport both because of the availability of the best coaches and the frequency/caliber of the competition.

Ragspierre has it pegged right out of the gate: BURN IT DOWN. And when you create a tax structure that gets every American to pay something for the ‘gain’ of federal interference in our lives, it must not require tax school or a law degree to understand by random citizens. Nor must it demand more than 10% of anyone’s income or earnings, regardless of how it ends up in their pocket…..and must not be altered without 75% support of the House and Senate.

The government does not tax income, it makes no attempt to. It simply and rather arbitrarily takes money from you based on some convoluted formula that bears no relation to any rational calculation of income. We have a vicious and horrible system that allows segments of the population prey upon the others. The Supreme Court should among many things reaffirm our rights against expropriation by state for redistribution, that the taxing power is solely for raising money and not for regulation and strike down the power to steal land and money through onerous regulation. Those simple reforms would return us back to a Constitutional Republic, and the income tax would no longer be necessary. Thus the desire to pillage those who bring prestige and honor to our nation would be satiated.

If the government feels that it is entitled to the blood and sweat of these Olympians, that it deserves something for nothing, then perhaps the Olympians should receive cash payments from the government for the honors bestowed.

I hate to agree with anything that Conor with one “n” Freidersdorf says but I do on this one. This is just a cheap stunt by Rubio. Winning Olympic medals is usually a gateway to a very good living and many of them make a lot of money along the way too. This is not as much an amateur enterprise as people think.

Rubio has more important issues on his plate. Knock it off Rubio.

Subotai Bahadur | August 2, 2012 at 2:09 pm

Without getting into the argument over taxation systems; it is undoubted that as current law stands [how a law reads and how it is de facto applied by the Executive Branch may or may not be the same thing] that the money from the Nobel Prize Committee is since 1986, in fact, taxable income.

“Teh Won”, Buraq Hussein the Light Worker, was granted the Nobel Prize shortly after ascension as a reward for being what he is.

I seem to remember some controversy about the funds, but with the media being totally owned by [at that time] Journo-List 1.0; not much that did not reflect on his divinity was reported.

Does anybody know if a) he reported the money on his tax return, and b) if taxes were paid on it? Or does asking such a question border on heresy?

Subotai Bahadur

So tired of the whole tax incentive and progressive taxation debate, maybe Phelps should pay more as a dominating one percenter, or maybe face no taxation if he donates the proceeds to Special Olympic Bowlers.

Media and citizens around here are praising this nine year-old, Boy Sells Lemonade To Help Detroit Financial Crisis … all his business proceeds going to support government largess.
Mayor Bing told the kid to keep his loot for college, but nope he’s determined to donate it to have a park to play in that’s not overgrown and full of trash and rats.

Hey kid when I was growing up near Detroit’s projects we had a garden hose, our BB Guns and spent fun filled days killing rats in the alley, had a piece of rope and old tire for a swing, cracked open the fire hydrant to cool off.

So save your money and go get an education kid because when you’re a homeowner they’ll want to put 100’s of millions on your property tax for a WEgional Art Authority.
Cuz apparently … You Gotta Have Art!


    OcTEApi in reply to OcTEApi. | August 2, 2012 at 2:14 pm

    I wouldn’t doubt that Obama praises this kid and sets him as an example of private business sacrifice -monument building to government largess.

Probably repeating something somebody said here, but Olympic athletes should be taxed like the rest of us. I would vote for doctors who save lives, pharmaceutical engineers who create life saving drugs and police / military who protect and server to get tax breaks before any athlete. Sorry, not my rule, but success is taxable.

Most of the taxes that would be required of an Olympic medalist come from the prize money they receive, not the actual medal, which doesn’t have much value. If you sold the medal, you would only be taxed on the incremental increase in value (if any) from the time you received it until the time you sold it, you would not be taxed again on the base value of the medal.

In the US an Olympic gold medal is nothing if not a commercial opportunity. Seems like just one single commercial endorsement nationally, or a few in the medalist’s home local market, would more than pay the tax bill. Everything after that is gravy. Send in the agents!

Awing1, upon sale that “incremental increase in value” known as capital gains would be taxed in current dollars purposely not indexed for inflation, thus increasing the original levy on the base value when the medal is awarded. It’s specifically designed to hide real tax rates and penalize those who attempt to escape the inflationary effects of Fed policies with their manipulation of the fiat money system and artificially low, arbitrarily imposed interest rates that don’t keep up with inflation by putting their wealth into commodities such as gold.

Conor Friedersdorf? Really? Why not just post some crap Tommy Christopher spewed?

You conservatives will never frigging learn.

Rubio doesn’t act conservative at all times, so I wonder about his pedigree. In all the Olympic Games that went before, no one thought it necessary to write new tax code that would only apply to Olympic Medal winners, so WTF is going on here?

Whatever tax consequence exists for winning medals, the athletes most certainly knew and acknowledged beforehand – and decided to compete anyway. If a non-Olympian would be taxed for winning a prize, I think the medal winners should also be taxed.

All we need is another 3 or 4 thousand words added to the tax code!

Mr. Friedersdorf argument is based on blaming Rubio for endorsing government picking winners and losers.

The entire taxation system is about the government picking winners and losers. Every bit of it. The government picks a number you pay if you earn a certain income. The government picks those who get a tax break for owning a home. The government says you get more deductions if you have children etc, etc, etc. Does anyone believe the government doesn’t pick winners and losers (all losers really) when it comes to taxes. Give me a break.

This is what irritates me most about liberals, they can’t even pose a question without basing it on a fallacy.

Maybe I am wrong but aren’t we all supposed to be equal? Why would we exempt the Olympic candidates from taxes and not the military? The military does a h*ll of a bigger job in the country’s interest. I want all citizens to be treated equally. If I have to pay taxes on wages and capital gains, so should the Olympic stars. This letting some and not all be exempt from taxes is for the birds.

We should have large tax exemption for those working and earning overseas. Say the first several hundred thousand tax free. Right now I think it is $75,000 and only if you live over seas for almost a year. We want to encourage such earning and that is why other countries (most of Europe for example) do not tax their citizens for such earnings. That and because they often are taxed where ever they are earning.

And I would start with members of the military working overseas. Yeah, they should get a tax break.

None of the stories mention this- and it may have been waived for the Olympics, but the UK taxes this stuff at 50% BEFORE the athlete leaves the country.

Top track and field athletes started refusing to go to meets in the UK because of this.

Also- I think it is even fairer to have the athletes pay social security and medicare as well as unemployment taxes on the earnings as well.

If Rubio’s suggestion was a “cheap stunt”, then so is every other knee-jerk legislation or regulation of the past century. It is the fatal disease of nearly all legislators – even if it will save one live, or we must do something…

Conner is right, even if his motivation is to score demerit marks against Sen Rubio. Further, Friedersdorf criticism, were he honest and expanded the logic, would fall far more heavily upon the left.

Rubio’s folly is allowing his heart to suggest policy without thinking through the implications. Sure it would be nice to prevent those nice little gals of Gold Medal winning US Gymnastics to keep all their winnings. But, if you do that, then all the members of the US Basketball, Volleyball, Tennis, Swimming, Track and Field, etc. would also have to keep their winnings tax free. As you can see, most of the later are professional athletes, earning their living from their athletic talents. They earn their living from competing in the games, races, and judged matches that they are ostensibly only representing their country. Yet it may be a higher level of prestige, but it is still just their job. (Superbowl, Wimbledon, World Cup, Tour de France anyone?)

No Professor, two lines in the tax code would not adequately delineate between the “amateur” and “pro”. In fact, as many have already pointed out, it is this kind of thinking that has created the IRS monster that we now live under. Rubio should quietly admit he was speaking from impulse, and not thinking rationally, and walk away from his suggestion.

Personally I am in favor of exempting the medals and cash awards given to Olympic champions.

While there are professional athletes in the USA Olympic squad the vast majority are unlikely to have much of a paying career outside their sport. Some are true professionals such as the USA Basketball team. Others have large endorsement payoffs such as Phelps. Some have smaller endorsement opportunities and payoffs such as the beach volleyball players.

But most do not.

Instead they have to have jobs, rely on friends and family and devote an enormous amount of time, money and sweat to their respective sport. Seriously how much money is there in judo? Or archery? Or Bobsled? Just how much does it cost to be an Olympian at all?

Comparing Olympic athletes to Nobel Prize winners isn’t a precise 1 to 1 match up. Nobel Prize winners by and large are fully employed in their field and are often leaders in those fields with good incomes from governments, universities and corporations.

American Olympic athletes get no funding support at all from the US government, must rely on private donations or financing and are out of pocket for all expenses. And if you don’t get an endorsement deal or play in a professional sport then you have to have a job that will not only let you spend enormous amounts of time training but also take large periods of time off to attend competitions.

What exactly are we talking about in terms of a payday here? $25,000 for a gold medal? That you only have a shot at getting once every 4 years? And that is if you get a gold medal. How many American Olympians have fought and sweated for their entire lives and never gotten a single medal?

In some ways I agree with the posters who feel that there should be consistency. I agree that the principle should be to reduce the tax laws not add to them. But take a few moments and consider what we’re discussing here.

Why not just go back to the pre-86 taxing policy on prizes?

1. I didn’t know Olympic metal winners received a cash payment, but what the heck, I didn’t know Dingy Harry Reid was in the closet, either.2. Am I the only one that is having doubts about this Rubio senator lately? He has a former Goldman Sachs employee for a chief of staff and now this “from the hip” law submitted for what, maybe 400 elite taxpayers. Isn’t that sort of cherry picking in the tax code one of the things we conservatives are supposed to be against?
3. How about a “cherry picking” law that TAXES the Solyndra bonuses, or pensions paid with tax dollars over the median working American pension, or on Defense contractor pension payments with Tax dollars or GSA non-earned bonuses or on DOJ, AIG, DOEd, DOEnergy, UN theft, etc. etc.
Is Rubio becoming or has he really been a RINO all along? Don’t know, but I will be paying closer attention to his actions.
God Bless America, RICO all banksters, their ho politicians and IMPEACH the liar, Eric Holder.