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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

I Know How to Pay Human Service Workers a $15 Minimum Wage: a Jock Tax

Posted by on Wed, Feb 26, 2014 at 9:55 AM

Danny Westneat apparently thinks of himself as a lone voice of reason in the wilderness, and so when the same Seattle Human Services Coalition report that came across everybody else's desk came across his desk, he asks: "Is the city even aware of these problems? I would hope so, but who really knows."

Um... yeah, Danny. That's why SHSC surveyed its members in the first place, several of whom sit on the mayor's Income Inequality Advisory Committee. I first mentioned that the committee was considering accommodations for nonprofits a month ago, and I only mentioned the issue because it had been raised to me by members of the committee. So yeah. The city is aware of these problems.

(As a tangent, let me just say that Westneat mentioning the report's "delicate and blandly worded conclusion" while ignoring the firmly worded opening statement—"SHSC fully supports raising the minimum wage ... to $15/hr"—is disappointing.)

As for how to pay a living wage to all those college educated social workers currently earning only $12.75? Yeah, raise taxes. Of course, raise taxes! We underfund human services to the point where we impoverish those serving the poor. The status quo is indefensible.

As for which tax to raise, here's an idea I first pitched nearly a decade ago, when the Sonics were first threatening to leave the city. A Jock Tax: an income tax on the salaries earned by athletes during their “duty days” in the city.

At least twenty other states already levy just such a “jock tax”… a tax our own Sonics, Mariners and Seahawks players already pay on nearly every away game. So why shouldn’t we tax opposing players too?

It won’t cost WA residents anything, and in fact, it won’t cost most of the visiting players all that much either, as any tax they pay here can be deducted from their state and federal income taxes, and they’re already hiring accountants to file tax returns in a dozen or more states. And they’re millionaires. Put a high exemption on the tax so as not to burden low-paid athletes in low-profile sports, but make the A-Rods pay their due. They can afford it.

A Jock Tax would be a tax on the privilege of playing professional sports in Seattle, and as such is not explicitly prohibited by anything in state statute. To avoid potential legal complications due to our lack of an income tax, we'd likely have to levy the Jock Tax on our own athletes too. But that's okay. They can afford it. And a rather middling Jock Tax rate should easily cover the added expense of paying human service workers a $15 minimum wage.

Yeah, I know, an income tax is allegedly unconstitutional. But the underlying constitutional issue—Is income property? (Hint: It's not. It's a transaction)—hasn't come before the state supreme court in over half a century, and well respected constitutional attorneys expect our modern court would likely overturn the crippling 1933 decision. Overturning that decision would put an income tax back on the table in Olympia, and that is the only way to spark the kind of debate that could ever lead to building the political support necessary for implementation.

So that's my modest proposal: pass a Jock Tax dedicated to funding human services, while phasing in a $15 minimum wage for human service providers over a period long enough to allow for the Jock Tax to wend its way through the courts.

Next issue?


Comments (56) RSS

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MrBaker 1
Right tax, wrong target. There isn't a nexus there, Goldy.

I propose a Jock Tax to pay for K12 Arts and Entertainment, and Athletics, in the state. Professional sports are "entertainment" and claim tax exempt status for ( in part) education.
Posted by MrBaker on February 26, 2014 at 10:03 AM · Report this
This is bullshit. "It won't cost WA residents anything", why shouldn't it? We SHOULD pay for the services and goods that we as taxpayers enjoy for the benefit of our community. It only makes you seem unserious in your arguments for a $15 an hour wage when you fly a pie in the sky idea like this. Guess what, it IS going to be a challenge for small businesses and no-for-profits to pay $15 an hour. To argue that making the change, even if it's the right thing to do, will be painless and costless is disingenuous at best.
Posted by Westside forever on February 26, 2014 at 10:14 AM · Report this
blowdart 3
Damnit, I read the article hoping you were going to tax utilikilt wearers. That's something I could get behind.
Posted by blowdart on February 26, 2014 at 10:16 AM · Report this
Goldy 4
@1 You can propose it for any purpose you want, but general fund monies are fungible.

The larger point is, there are creative ways to raise revenue beyond yet another property tax levy. $15 opponents want to use the human services issue as a lever for killing or emasculating a minimum wage ordinance. But raising taxes for something worthy is not such a big lift in Seattle.
Posted by Goldy on February 26, 2014 at 10:17 AM · Report this
theres always money in the banana stand
Posted by db206 on February 26, 2014 at 10:19 AM · Report this
MrBaker 6
And don't limit the tax to just pro athletes, entertainers that fill arenas and stadiums benefit from the existence of those facilities, too.

Elton John isn't a charity.

So, that's the nexus between the tax and funding arts and music in K-12.

If that somehow supplanted general fund money to pay workers $15 an hour, so be it.
Posted by MrBaker on February 26, 2014 at 10:21 AM · Report this
Goldy 7
@2 I am looking for an opportunity to pass a Jock Tax as a means of getting the underlying issue before the Supreme Court. If the minimum wage is that opportunity, great. If building an arena is that opportunity, that's fine too. If you're unwilling to play the game to win, don't play at politics.

Our tax structure is the core of our problems. I'm at least trying to get at the underlying issue.
Posted by Goldy on February 26, 2014 at 10:21 AM · Report this
MrBaker 8
@4, try saying those words to Ross Hunter.
What you will get back from most legislators is that there needs to be a nexus.

You should know this.
Posted by MrBaker on February 26, 2014 at 10:23 AM · Report this
raindrop 9
Goldy, Sloggers like can be silly at times. You, on the other other hand by looking for out-of-the-blue tax schemes makes you look sillier than the silliest troll on Slog. Index pays you to be professional on Slog, not silly.
Posted by raindrop on February 26, 2014 at 10:24 AM · Report this
Goldy 10
@6 You don't need any legal nexus.
Posted by Goldy on February 26, 2014 at 10:27 AM · Report this
@4 couldn't agree more, but raising the minimum wage alone isn't going to break the cycle of poverty. It has to be part of a bigger picture which is something that has been left out of a lot of these discussions. People talk about $15/hr like it's this catch-all solution to solving poverty.

Yes raise the minimum wage, but also make college more affordable and education better for young people. Figure out a way to get us better healthcare. Make healthy foods more accessible. Get guns out of people's hands. Figure out a way to get support systems in place for low income families.

All of these things are part of the problem and raising minimum wage is only a small part of the solution. The discussion needs to be wider.
Posted by db206 on February 26, 2014 at 10:27 AM · Report this
Goldy 12
@9 And you are a tool of the status quo.

There's a very good chance that a jock tax would be constitutional. But we'll never know unless we pass one.
Posted by Goldy on February 26, 2014 at 10:31 AM · Report this
Kinison 13
I'm pretty sure this would hurt small time professional sports like Roller Derby, Arena Football, Lingerie Football (which is stupid), as well as school related sporting events like Vollyball, Baseball, Bowling, Golf, Rowing/Crew, Track and Field, etc, etc.

Posted by Kinison on February 26, 2014 at 10:33 AM · Report this
This is the kind of idea I'd expect from a precocious but friendless grade schooler.

Grow the eff up, Goldy.
Posted by dak7e on February 26, 2014 at 10:39 AM · Report this
How does Goldy take one of the dumbest ideas a city has ever created and think...

Oh it's Goldy.
Posted by No Excuses on February 26, 2014 at 10:40 AM · Report this
Goldy 16
@13 Read the blockquote. You put in a big exemption to exclude low-paid athletes.
Posted by Goldy on February 26, 2014 at 10:40 AM · Report this
Call me Scott 17
I think it's a great idea--and including highly compensated entertainers/educators of all stripes seems appropriate.
Posted by Call me Scott on February 26, 2014 at 10:44 AM · Report this
Kinison 18

And whats a low-paid athlete? Technically Russell Wilson is a low paid athlete, still under a rookie contract, legally one could easily argue this to avoid paying the tax.
Posted by Kinison on February 26, 2014 at 10:47 AM · Report this
Supreme Ruler Of The Universe 19

Here's the thing...the majority of money flowing into Washington State is not income from jobs or small businesses. It's money from assets, like capital appreciation and rental monies.

The Feds already solved this problem with a NIIT. It's 3.8% percent tax on "passive income" above a certain (reasonable) amount. It's being used to fund Obamacare.

The simple and logical approach, and one that would be truly progressive, would be to follow this model exactly, and add an additional 1% State Investment Income Tax (SIIT). We'd use the same metrics, same evaluations, it would be essentially a paperless change.

A NIIT/SIIT taxes:

Net investment income consists of three categories of income and their associated deductions.

Category one:

royalties, and
rents (other than rents received as part of a trade or business).

Category two:

Income derived from a trade or business that is passive income, or
Income from a business trading financial instruments or commodities.

Category three:

Net capital gains (except gains on property held in a trade or business).…
Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe on February 26, 2014 at 10:48 AM · Report this
The Beady Eyes of Mayor Ed Murray 20
Rename to JOX TAX and we have ourselves a deal.

Nobody will vote for something that looks that ridiculous in print OR MAYBE THEY WILL.
Posted by The Beady Eyes of Mayor Ed Murray on February 26, 2014 at 10:49 AM · Report this
Goldy, this is the dumbest thing I have ever seen you propose.
Posted by cracked on February 26, 2014 at 10:59 AM · Report this
Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn 22
This is the same bullshit reasoning that led to that fucked up Latte Tax. Instead of appealing to lowbrow stereotypes to concoct weird taxes that are supposedly painless, we need a simple, progressive income tax. Not games. An income tax that taxes incomes.
Posted by Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn on February 26, 2014 at 11:13 AM · Report this
MajordomoPicard 23
I love how the main thrust of the people arguing against Goldy's proposal boils down to "LOL ur stoopid." Maybe try to argue a point?
Posted by MajordomoPicard on February 26, 2014 at 11:15 AM · Report this
keshmeshi 24

Speaking of solutions, paying social workers a living wage ($12.75/hour is indefensible) might do a lot to keep hard-working, caring people in those jobs. I've never known a social worker to be able to hack it for more than a couple of years. They're overworked and underpaid.
Posted by keshmeshi on February 26, 2014 at 11:20 AM · Report this
Didn't we have an initiative to tax millionaires on the ballot just a couple of years ago? Didn't that lose by a 2-1 margin? Unconstitutionality is just one problem. The residents of WA overwhelmingly oppose going down the income tax route.
Posted by drshort on February 26, 2014 at 11:23 AM · Report this
Fnarf 26
@9, silly, like you yesterday when you said that Obama is going to magically stay on for an unconstitutional third term?…

"plausible". Uh-huh. You're a cartoon.
Posted by Fnarf on February 26, 2014 at 11:24 AM · Report this
keshmeshi 27

This also reminds me of the petty solutions politicians propose to help the poor. Give them subsidized or free heating oil in the winter! Give them subsidized or free phones! Have you considered providing them with enough money to live on?
Posted by keshmeshi on February 26, 2014 at 11:25 AM · Report this
Goldy 28
@14, @15, @21 et al: What @23 said.

Posted by Goldy on February 26, 2014 at 11:27 AM · Report this
Fnarf 29
@24, I know dozens who have hacked it for ten or fifteen years. It's hard; hard work for not so much pay. But still they do it. Most of them (certainly not all) are part of a dual-income household, which makes it more feasible. That's the reality of living in a city like this. There are at least a million people in this region who earn that.
Posted by Fnarf on February 26, 2014 at 11:27 AM · Report this

It's a tax he only supports because the people affected by it don't have the collective ability to resist it, nor do they have the incomes that would make people feel bad about it.

It's like taxing smokers except for the fact visiting athletes don't usually have negative externalities that society collectively pays for (I won't listen to you if you call a voter approved bond measure for our bread and circuses an externality in need of remedy).

Basically Goldy thinks he's so smart for finding a tax most people would be indifferent to, but has no underlying basis other than ease of implementation. If you want a tax system based on ease of tax collection, say so.

I'm not a well heeled athlete but I think there are more efficient ways to raise revenue through economic activity we already engage in rather than trying to siphon money off athletes.

I mean, when you're cribbing revenue ideas from Cleveland you gotta take a step back and consider the options.
Posted by No Excuses on February 26, 2014 at 11:29 AM · Report this
We're calling it stupid because it's manifestly unfair, arbitrary and yeah - fcuking stupid. Why just pro athletes? Why not entertainers? Why not just anybody over a certain income level? If we're just targeting a group we don't much care about, how about a tax on people who groom themselves of public transit? Or people who parallel park like jackasses?

I know Goldy's 99% troll. Now he's just a lazy troll.
Posted by dak7e on February 26, 2014 at 11:29 AM · Report this
Goldy 32
@22 This is how we get to a state income tax. First we need to overturn the 1933 decision, so that lawmakers can't just roll their eyes and laugh at you for suggesting that we tax income. And we do that by passing some sort of income tax here first, that can survive all other statutory preemptions, forcing the underlying issue before the supreme court.

The perfect is the enemy of the good, and all that.
Posted by Goldy on February 26, 2014 at 11:30 AM · Report this
Goldy 33
@25 The high-earners income tax passed overwhelmingly in Seattle. We can pass one here. And we should.
Posted by Goldy on February 26, 2014 at 11:31 AM · Report this
Then why don't you just say "tax the higher income people"? That's something worth considering (progressive taxation, etc etc).

Singling out an arbitrary group of (somewhat) high income people is just lazy ass trolling on your part.
Posted by dak7e on February 26, 2014 at 11:35 AM · Report this
Godly is correct about this - we need new taxes to properly fund local social services.

It would be great to see us be able to get the tens of millions of dollars per year social services in Seattle will need just to bring wages up to where they should be, not to mention the millions more we need to bring increase services for all the people who need them. Let's definitely work on that. And the business community should be lobbying for this. I know the members of the CCI have already started doing that.

In the meantime, I don't believe we'll get those taxes raised and paid out to the social services mentioned in the report, let alone the dozens of others not mentioned, who will cut services Jan 1 2015, if $15Now gets their proposal passed. So instead of $15Now, let's do $15 smart and phase in the increase to $15 over a number of years for social services and non-profits. Anything less is irresponsible and is pitting one group of poor against the other.
Posted by Meinert on February 26, 2014 at 11:35 AM · Report this
Goldy 36
@22 And to be clear, I've laid out this strategy on Slog before: Road to State Income Tax Runs Thru Seatt….
Posted by Goldy on February 26, 2014 at 11:37 AM · Report this
keshmeshi 37

How many of those others making $12.75/hour are college educated? How many of them have similar work loads? How does the pay of social workers (a field dominated by women) compare to other government jobs dominated by men that require the same qualifications?
Posted by keshmeshi on February 26, 2014 at 11:37 AM · Report this
keshmeshi 38

Also, do you remember how loudly you were complaining that $40,000/year wasn't "enough" for garbage collectors in this city? So, for the record, you think male garbage collectors deserve better pay than female social workers.
Posted by keshmeshi on February 26, 2014 at 11:40 AM · Report this
So Goldy - could we just do an income tax in Seattle, not just for jocks, but for everyone? Small. What would a .05% tax on income get us?
Posted by Meinert on February 26, 2014 at 11:57 AM · Report this
Fnarf 40
@38, are you dim? Yes, I think social workers should be paid more. I've worked really hard to try and make that happen. But there's such a thing as a market, and, as I have pointed out many times, the amount of money available to pay social workers is set by contract, not by whim. The agency where I work FOR DECADES paid home-care workers considerably more than we were reimbursed by the state, but eventually we just weren't able to carry that load anymore, so we gave up the entire program. It sucks. But it's reality.

As for your other questions, I would say that virtually all of them have degrees, probably MSWs. Since there really isn't such a thing as case manager efficiency (an experienced case manager may do better work with clients than newbies, but they're not going to be able to magically handle twice the clients), pay is usually based on seniority, via a complicated system of levels and annual steps, which we spent literally hundreds and hundreds of person-hours devising. We pay higher than market today -- but it's not enough. It will never be enough.We do what we can. It will never be for everybody. BTW, management is almost all women as well.
Posted by Fnarf on February 26, 2014 at 12:14 PM · Report this
Goldy 41
@39 We could try. But the appeal of a targeted privilege tax like this is that it's our best shot at getting around other statutory preemptions, and thus getting the underlying issue before the supreme court. Once the court overturns the 1933 decision, then we can come back in Seattle and do a proper income tax, assuming the state legislature doesn't cut us off with preemptory legislation.

There's the actual revenue a Jock Tax could raise, sure. But it's also about crafting a tax with the best shot at getting the "is income property?" issue back before the court.
Posted by Goldy on February 26, 2014 at 12:25 PM · Report this
Here's how your scenario would go down:

1) Seattle passes some sort of income tax

2) The issue of WA income tax is settled in court

If courts now allow income taxes...

3) Tim Eyman is raised from the dead.

4) The rest of the state would immediately push for a constitutional amendment that re-imposed the ban on income taxes. Takes 2/3 of legislature plus statewide vote.
Posted by drshort on February 26, 2014 at 12:36 PM · Report this
treacle 43
Can't we also tax douchebags and violent bigots?
Posted by treacle on February 26, 2014 at 12:38 PM · Report this
@33, did it pass in Seattle or just lose by less ? I can't find a single google hit saying it carried in Seattle proper and we all know how you love to mis-remember.

1098 in King County was 45% for to 55% against . The only County that it passed in was San Juan, by a 56 vote margin.……
Posted by ChefJoe on February 26, 2014 at 12:41 PM · Report this
I passed big in Seattle and lost big outside of Seattle.…

Which means if Seattle tries to overturn the ban on income taxes on its own, the rest of the state would coalesce on re-imposing it.
Posted by drshort on February 26, 2014 at 1:01 PM · Report this
Posted by bigyaz on February 26, 2014 at 1:04 PM · Report this
MrBaker 47
Goldy, "You don't need any legal nexus."

I didn't say a legal nexus, just a nexus. Asking legislators to raise taxes is difficult enough. Asking them to do so without a logical connection between what is being taxed and who benefits from the tax (a nexus) is routinely cited as an easy excuse not to support legislation.

You're asking legislators to support a raise in Seattle's minimum wage by applying a tax at city and county facilities for the benefit of just Seattle, or were you just going to tax pro sports at KeyArena and exempt the Storm?
Good luck with that.

A logical use of a pro sports and professional entertainment fee on the performers would use in perpetuating and cultivating the very same arts, entertainment, and sports, that the tax is derived from is a nexus.
Exempt performers (and income) that make less than 10x the base wage of a public school teacher, and exempting resident performers (they are paying a variety of taxes just living here).
It would provide some dedicated funding for K12 arts, and amateur athletics.
Posted by MrBaker on February 26, 2014 at 3:55 PM · Report this
MrBaker 48
If you really want to tax something then try capital gains. That's where the tax code has favored the 1% and tilted the playing field in their favor.
Posted by MrBaker on February 26, 2014 at 4:09 PM · Report this
MrBaker 49
The state legislature would cut you down at the knees, Goldy. After all of the handwringing at the state and county level to pigeon hole the stadiums into existence they are not about to have Seattle apply a tax like this for the the benefit of just Seattle.
Posted by MrBaker on February 26, 2014 at 4:14 PM · Report this
dumbest thing ive ever heard. there are 55 guys on the seahawks. about 1/2 of them are players with 3 or less years who make the league minimum $300-400k. in contrast there are lots of 1st year programmers at MSOFT, GOOG, and AMZN who make 150-200k. LOTS of them.

the mariners - they have about 25 guys on the team. some make a lot, others not so much. either way there isnt that much money being paid to big-time athletes here . we're talking about 40 people tops. and they earn at least 1/2 of their income OUTSIDE the state

this is soooo dumb of an idea, it makes me annoyed that i even read the article.

This is what you get when you let a mediocre writer take on sports! LOB!
Posted by Cassette tape fan on February 26, 2014 at 10:58 PM · Report this
Seems like passing a jock tax would be a great way to get that new arena built on the Eastside instead of here
Posted by Reader01 on February 26, 2014 at 11:00 PM · Report this
the avg team salary of an NFL team is $100 million (give or take).

mlb average is a little higher , say $125 mil. so the rev pool of this is 225 million. and around the country, the jock tax is about 0.25 percent on avg...lets round up to really want to start a tax arguement/fight to win $2.25 million?

you want to go after the the most popular celeb's in town - the Seahawks - for chump change - while the team owners, big business, etc are not targeted? after all of the b&O and liquor tax they helped generate the last 2 years?

you would play right into anti-tax political hands and Poison the well for a lot of middle of the road people regarding good arguements for a more fair, progressive tax structure in the state?

not to mention the subtle racial discriminiation issues around targeting a mostly 'defenseless' minority group (pro-athletes) to advance some 'wacky liberal cause' or 'hidden agenda'....while leaving the real wealthy folks like paul allen & mariner owners (ultra-rich white people) unscathed.

seems like a fools errand to me
Posted by Cassette tape fan on February 26, 2014 at 11:23 PM · Report this
Theodore Gorath 53
Fact is, most professional sports careers are short and only lucrative in the very short term.

Sure, we all remember the guys who played for a decade and retired wealthy, but the vast majority of players play for a year or two, and then are forced out of the league with little to show for it. A huge number of former NFL players are bankrupt or now living what we would consider middle or lower class existences. But these guys are invisible.

So instead of targeting the (often minority) guys sacrificing their bodies and futures for a small chance of a comfortable life, why not target this arbitrary tax at the billionaire owners of the sports team? Or is that too progressive a tax?
Posted by Theodore Gorath on February 27, 2014 at 6:44 AM · Report this
sissoucat 54
"an income tax is allegedly unconstitutional"

Wow... really ? No income tax in the US ? How do you finance public services then ? Like education, social aids, health insurance, road maintenance, a well-regulated police force, and stuff ?
Posted by sissoucat on February 28, 2014 at 3:54 AM · Report this
Goldensteinemberg wanted to pass a jock itch tax but then realized he’d have to pay through the nose.

But keep chasing your windmills! How about a tax on air?

Let me tell you how it will be
There's one for you, nineteen for me
'Cause I'm the taxman, yeah, I'm the taxman

Should five per cent appear too small
Be thankful I don't take it all
'Cause I'm the taxman, yeah I'm the taxman

If you drive a car, I'll tax the street,
If you try to sit, I'll tax your seat.
If you get too cold I'll tax the heat,
If you take a walk, I'll tax your feet.

Don't ask me what I want it for
If you don't want to pay some more
'Cause I'm the taxman, yeah, I'm the taxman

Now my advice for those who die
Declare the pennies on your eyes
'Cause I'm the taxman, yeah, I'm the taxman
And you're working for no one but me.
Posted by Sugartit on February 28, 2014 at 6:00 PM · Report this
@54 they are talking about the Washington state constitution you moron.

"“All taxes shall be uniform upon the same class of property . The word 'property' as used herein shall mean and include everything, whether tangible or intangible, subject to ownership .”

Only way to possibly get around this would be a flat tax which I'd support. Time for the moochers to have some skin in the game. Of course you look at Illinois with a flat income tax sales tax and property tax and it's a mess.
Posted by Sugartit on February 28, 2014 at 6:05 PM · Report this

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