New York Times, Tax Break for Olympic Heroes? A Sole Lawmaker Says No:
A group of United States Olympians from the Rio Games is set to visit the White House on Thursday. It’s a safe bet that one particular lawmaker will be excluded from the guest list.
That would be Representative Jim Himes, Democrat of Connecticut, a former Harvard rower who last week cast the only vote against a bill that would give most United States Olympic and Paralympic medalists a tax break on their victory bonuses.
The vote on the bill — which was approved by the Senate earlier this year and is expected to be signed into law by President Obama — was 415 to 1.
“A lonely, lonely moment,” Himes said Friday when I spoke with him by telephone.
Contrary to what you might be thinking right now, Himes does not hate sports or love income taxes, and he doesn’t disdain the Olympics in general or medal-winning Olympians in particular. Far from it. In the 1980s, he was the captain of Harvard’s lightweight crew, and he said he even tried, unsuccessfully, to make the United States national team. This summer, he said, he was “caught up in the thrill of our Olympic victories” as much as anybody else.
But Himes is also a former Rhodes scholar who once worked at Goldman Sachs, so he knows how to add, and for him, the question of an Olympic tax break was a simple question of priorities: Why should athletes receive perks at a time when that money, even if it’s only a drop in the federal budget, is needed elsewhere? His conclusion was that they should not. ...
Why should Olympians get tax breaks when other extraordinary Americans don’t? As Himes notes, Nobel Peace Prize winners and spelling bee winners and Special Operations soldiers still have to pay their taxes. He called the Olympic bill arbitrary, not to mention bad fiscal policy.
And if the argument is that struggling Olympic athletes need a raise, it’s not as if the Games don’t produce enough money to throw the stars of the show a little extra cash. Unfortunately, too much of the money in the Olympic movement — squeezed out of sponsors, television networks and ticket buyers — never finds its way down the food chain. Somehow, some way, millions of dollars still slip into the pockets of top sports officials every four years.