Ohio tax collectors go after broadcast sports
State and local tax officials are notorious for chasing after every dime of what their perceive to be their rightful take from someone else’s activity. Pro athletes are easy targets, considering there’s plenty of proof they actually worked in a specific place, at a specific time, for a certain wage.
But what about the folks watching a broadcast event at home? Is that also taxable? According to Ohio yes, it is:
Jeff McClain, Ohio’s tax commissioner, claims NASCAR owes the state more than $549,000 in unpaid taxes merely because Ohioans watched NASCAR races on television. McClain says that money is due under Ohio’s commercial activity tax (CAT), a 0.64 percent levy on the gross receipts of any business that earns at least $1 million in the state. The Ohio Department of Revenue collects about $2 billion annually from the CAT, which it says companies must pay “for the privilege of doing business in Ohio.”
Last year, the Ohio Board of Tax Appeals, a quasi-judicial entity, sided with McClain. NASCAR, which is based in Florida, appealed that decision to the Ohio Supreme Court, which will hear the case later this year.
That’s rather incredible. And as NASCAR’s lawyers tell it in their court brief, could open Pandora’s Box:
The state’s attempt to claim a share of TV revenue, NASCAR argues in court documents, is a “remarkable position” that would “automatically apply the CAT to revenue ranging from baseball teams in California to makers of YouTube cat videos, and everything in between.” NASCAR’s lawyers told the court this expansive scheme violates the U.S. Constitution’s Commerce Clause, which gives Congress the sole power to regulate interstate commerce.
More simply, it’s a cash grab. How did this demand get off the ground in the first place?
The case is the latest tax spat to arise in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2018 ruling in South Dakota v. Wayfair, which dealt with whether online retailers owed states sales tax. The justices held that a state could collect sales tax from a business with a significant economic presence, or “nexus,” in that state, even if the firm did not have a physical presence there.
Ah, of course. The Supreme Court already gave localities the right to tax online sales. Now, they want to tax broadcast, cable, and streaming events, too.