This Op-Ed by Nicole Malliotakis originally appeared in City & State
This summer, Americans across the country are rooting for our athletes competing on the world stage at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Fortunately, our country is able to send dozens of spectacular athletes to the games in hopes of attaining medals and showcasing the drive and determination that is inherent in every American. This year alone, the state of New York was able to send 30 residents to compete in Rio, many of whom will bring home medals. Their victories are a great source of pride for all New Yorkers and should be celebrated. However, in states across the country, including ours, the medalists are congratulated with a tax bill.
As of the writing of this op-ed, eight New Yorkers have won medals at the 2016 games: Meghan Musnicki in rowing (gold), Emily Regan in rowing (gold), Daryl Homer in fencing (silver), Beezie Madden in equestrian (silver), Lia Neal in swimming (silver), McLain Ward in equestrian (silver), Dalilah Muhammad in track and field (gold) and Miles Chamley-Watson in fencing (bronze).
The United States Olympic Committee (USOC) awards athletes with $25,000 for each gold medal, $15,000 for silver and $10,000 for bronze. The efforts taken by these athletes in preparing for the games more than justify the awards they receive should they be deemed the best in the world for their sport. But, of course, the government insists on getting piece of the action.
Under current law, tax collectors at the federal and state level treat these awards as income, and as such subject to taxation. They even go so far as to tax gold and silver medalists on the value of the medals themselves – estimated at $564 and $305, respectively.
The United States is one of the few nations that do not provide government money to support the training of its Olympic athletes. Relatively few have endorsement deals, and the rest must survive on small stipends from the USOC or balance their training with a normal day job. Our Olympians represent our nation on the world stage and instill pride in all Americans, motivating young and old to overcome obstacles and achieve greatness. It’s an achievement that should be encouraged by our government, not used as an opportunity for another money grab.
I intend to introduce legislation with state Sen. Phil Boyle next session that would exempt awards and medals earned through the USOC at the Summer and Winter Olympic Games from income taxes. We have also written Gov. Andrew Cuomo asking that he consider including such an exemption in his 2017-2018 budget proposal. This is a concept that carries bipartisan appeal. U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer is presently co-sponsoring the United States Appreciation for Olympians and Paralympians (USA Olympians and Paralympians) Act, which would provide an exemption at the federal level, while Americans for Tax Reform and its conservative founder and president Grover Norquist are currently driving a petition entitled Stop the IRS from Taxing Our Olympians.
Our Olympians dedicate thousands of hours to perfecting their sport, sacrificing time and money in order to compete on the international stage. Let’s do the right thing as a proud state and allow them to keep the full amount of the awards received and cease taxing them on the value of their hard-earned and well-deserved medals.