State Senator Julie Morrison speaks during Thursday's roundtable discussion about immigration reform. Representative Brad Schneider and Senator Dick Durbin hosted the event at CLC in Vernon Hills. | Brian O'Mahoney
Updated: February 22, 2014 4:11PM
SPRINGFIELD — One suburban legislator wants to stop the state from taxing the winnings of Sochi Olympic and Paralympic medalists.
Sen. Julie Morrison, D-Deerfield, sponsored a bill exempting Illinois athletes who medal in the Sochi 2014 games from paying the 5 percent state income tax on their earnings.
“This is just a small thing the state can do, should our athletes be fortunate enough to bring home a medal,” said Morrison, whose bill advanced out of committee earlier this week.
Of the 11 Olympic athletes from Illinois, Morrison said three or four live near her area, including figure skater Jason Brown, from Highland Park, and hockey player Megan Bozek, from Buffalo Grove.
“I think it’s a real honor that these athletes represent the U.S. and the state of Illinois,” Morrison said. “I’m very proud of them.”
Brown, who skated his way to a bronze medal in a team event, would directly benefit from Morrison’s bill.
Although Liberty Coin & Currency assessed the actual metals in the Olympic medals at a value of $600 or less, Morrison said the real prize comes from the cash awards doled out by the U.S. Olympic Committee: A gold medalist takes home $25,000; a silver medalist wins $15,000; a bronze medalist earns $10,000.
Department of Revenue spokeswoman Sue Hofer said that because the winnings are considered “income” on a state and federal level, that makes them taxable.
Depending where an Illinois athlete falls on the federal tax bracket, some Olympians could pay close to 40 percent of their winnings to the federal government, plus what they give to the state.
There’s also a federal push to exempt Olympic athletes from paying taxes on their loot, a measure spearheaded by Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas.
Based on the current 5 percent personal income tax rate, Morrison’s bill could save Illinois Olympians $500 to $1,250 per medal.
But the Taxpayers’ Federation of Illinois opposed Morrison’s measure in committee on the basis that the state can’t afford new exemptions.
“The state’s fiscal situation is still so tenuous, so dicey,” federation President Carol Portman said. “We certainly don’t oppose Olympic medalists, but from a good tax policy standpoint, it’s good to have a broad base and low tax rate.”
Morrison could call a vote on Senate Bill 344 as soon as Tuesday, though she said she has yet to find a sponsor in the House.