Chris Cassidy, Hillary Chabot, and Matt Stout - 8/3/12
The Bay State's gold medalist Olympic darlings deserve glory, not the tax bills they stand to be whacked with by both the feds and state when they return from London later this month, Massachusetts pols told the Herald yesterday.
"I never realized the IRS would be waiting for you with a bill when you get off the plane," said U.S. Sen. Scott Brown, who congratulated Kayla Harrison of Marblehead, who struck gold in judo yesterday. "A lot of these people are 15, 16 and 17 and are just starting their lives."
"I don't think that's right," said state Rep. James R. Miceli (D-Wilmington). "These people are representing this country and they've brought honor upon this country. They shouldn't have to face a tax."
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida has introduced a bill in Congress that would exempt Olympic medalists -- who receive an honorarium of $25,000 for a gold -- from paying up to 35 percent in federal income tax on the prize money. Brown, who co-signed the legislation, said the exemption makes sense. Even Democrat Elizabeth Warren, who said her 7-year-old granddaughter Lavinia was inspired to turn cartwheels around the house by the U.S. women's gymnastics win Tuesday, said Rubio's proposed tax break is an easy call.
"I support it," Warren told the Herald. "It seems like the least we can do for our Olympians who have trained so hard for so many years."
State Rep. Alice K. Wolf (D-Cambridge) said she's open to exempting Olympic medalists' prizes in Massachusetts, but she added, "Aside from the fact that we love our Olympians, we also love our Nobel Prize winners."
Department of Revenue officials confirmed Massachusetts will levy the usual 5.3 percent income tax on the $25,000 prize for a gold medal, $15,000 for silver and $10,000 for bronze. The National Conference of State Legislatures said most states follow the feds' lead in calculating taxable income, and a tax expert for the organization said she could find no indication any state has an Olympic exemption.
1980 U.S. Olympic hockey hero Mike Eruzione insisted athletes aren't thinking about the money when they compete every four years and certainly aren't thinking taxes.
"Maybe it's a politician trying to get publicity," Eruzione told the Herald. "You try to keep politics out of the Olympic Games. Is it somebody trying to get some recognition?"
But Mary Ellen Clark, a two-time bronze medalist in diving in 1992 and 1996 and now a coach at Amherst and Mount Holyoke colleges, said the money could go to good use -- like paying back for years of support.
"It's a nice thought," Clark said. "Everybody does really work hard, and with the parents, there's a lot of sacrifice there. For the parents, you say, here for all the gas money, all the lessons. Or I'm going to give it to a cause that I really believe in."