The Olympics may be over, but some US lawmakers are still competing for the lousy tax policy medal. Weeks after Florida Senator Marco Rubio proposed—and President Barack Obama endorsed—a bill to exempt US Olympians’ gold-medal bonuses from federal income tax, a California Senate Committee approved a plan last week to exempt these bonuses from the state’s income tax.
An unusually pointed Senate Governance and Finance Committee staff analysis of the bill, however, noted that “the measure is the exact opposite of sound tax policy” and tartly suggested that “[t]he Committee may wish to consider whether running afoul of good tax policy is worth the bill's kind gesture.”
The staff analysis also pointed out that, like the federal legislation that inspired it, the California bill could inadvertently exempt from tax not just the $25,000 bonus Kobe Bryant will receive from his basketball gold medal, but also Olympics-related compensation he might receive from advertisers and sponsors.
Seemingly undeterred by this analysis, the Senate Committee initially approved the bill by a 5 to 1 vote last week, but its sponsor couldn’t get it past the Appropriations Committee for a full vote. He has said he will add amendments and try again.
As we’ve noted previously, the trivial cost of this measure does not change the fact that it would add one more brick to the wall of tax complexity. Meaningful tax reform requires weeding out special tax breaks for privileged groups rather than adding them; any politician who knows this and endorses an Olympic winnings tax exemption is engaging in political opportunism of hypocritical proportions.